Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Open Letter Of Library Support To My Town's Mayor

Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh
Town & Village of Harrison
1 Heineman Place
Harrison, NY 10528

Dear Mayor Walsh,

In response to your recent request for input as the town prepares its budget for 2011, I would like to point out some pertinent facts about how important the residents of the town of Harrison consider their libraries. I’d also like to discuss the economic value we receive from our investment in these important community institutions.

Few would dispute the relevance of libraries to the quality of life in our town, but I’m not sure many people realize the scope of service provided by the Harrison Public Library, West Harrison Branch, and Purchase Free Library. In addition to circulating hundreds of thousands of books, DVDs, CDs, and other materials, our libraries present thousands of programs for everyone from kids to seniors, offer tax and other government forms, provide free Internet access to the one-third of Harrison residents who do not have it in their home, and answer thousands and thousands of questions about everything from homework assignments to how to find job search resources.

It’s the sheer scope of these services that has driven the growth in usage of our libraries—a fact that demonstrates their importance to the people who live here. Last year, visits to our three libraries increased 7% to well over 200,000—with commensurate growth in the number of items circulated, reference questions answered, computer usage, and programs attended.

To put it another way, more than 500 Harrison residents visited our three libraries every day in 2009.

Another way to measure the importance of libraries to us is the growth in the number of Harrison residents who are registered for library cards. In 2009, 11,775 of us had cards—an increase of 14% over the year earlier. In other words, nearly half of us consider the libraries important enough to take the time to register. Thousands more residents use the facilities on a walk-in basis without a card.

Enclosed is a chart showing 2008 and 2009 library usage in several pertinent categories and attaching some minimal (and admittedly arbitrary) economic value to them based on what it would cost a library patron to buy the same products and services elsewhere. Please note that all data is combined for the Purchase, Harrison, and West Harrison libraries and drawn from the libraries’ annual state report for 2009. While it is impossible to put a dollar value on everything these fine libraries do for us, we can do some simple math to show what a great return Harrison resident receive on the tiny portion of their tax dollars that support the libraries.

According to my calculations based on the 2010 Town Budget, for every dollar we spend on our three libraries, we receive $2.47 in value based on 2009 library usage.

The basis for my calculation is straightforward. Harrison residents checked out 188,236 books (more adult volumes than children’s, by the way) in 2009. If they had purchased that many trade paperbacks at a standard price of $15 each, they would have spent $2,823,540—an amount greater than the town’s library budget by far! Then there are the 149,171 DVDs, CDs, games, and other materials that were borrowed. A comparable rental from a video store would cost about $5—or another $745,855 out of Harrison residents’ pocketbooks. And what about programs like the Early Literacy sessions? Attendance at them was 7,743 in 2009. To hire a tutor at just $25 an hour would have cost our town’s parents $193,575. Then there is the Summer Reading Program, Internet computer usage, other adult and children’s programs, etc.

In 2010, the town budgeted $2,467,752 for library support and operations of the three facilities. By my math, we taxpayers received $6,089,807 in value. That’s a one-year return anyone should be pleased to achieve.

You can see the complete calculations on the enclosed chart. Full detail on library usage is available from the reports the libraries file with the state through the Westchester Library System. As you may know, I represent our libraries on the WLS Board of Trustees. I would be more than happy to discuss this with you and/or the town board at your convenience.

I know hard choices must be made during these difficult times. I urge you to consider the loud vote for library funding cast by the 11,775 registered users and the tremendous economic value delivered by our libraries to our residents. Thank you for considering this request that library funding for 2011 not be subject to further cuts.

Best regards,
Dave Donelson

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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