#1
Old 04-10-2006, 05:38 AM
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Libraries in the US

I've several times heard/read about donating books to libraires and people working as volunteers. Does that mean that libraries are (mostly) private in the US, or are they sponsored by the state or even state-owned?

(maybe it's different in each state?)
#2
Old 04-10-2006, 06:31 AM
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Public libraries, what most people who use the term 'library' mean, are run at the city or county level and are tax-funded. They do accept donations and they do use volunteers as money-saving measures, but they are by no means private.

There are private libraries too, of course, usually attached to private colleges or hospitals or other large private organizations. They may or may not accept donations (I think all colleges, public and private, do) and they may or may not employ volunteers.
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#3
Old 04-10-2006, 06:32 AM
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Many libraries are owned by the municipality (town or county). The voters in that specific municipality decided how much funding the libraries will get.

In my town the library’s request for more funding was defeated in the last election in October. Since many people support the library’s mission, including the same people who don’t want increased taxes to support it, they will volunteer at the library and/or donate books/cds/dvd/magazines. People will also often work at/for their local library as opposed to the “library system” as a whole.
#4
Old 04-10-2006, 06:47 AM
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Thanks And yes, I meant public libraries (sorry I wasn't more precise).

To me, the practise of accepting donations and using volunteers usually seems connected with private organisations and it made me wonder why a state-funded library would do that. Especially as it seems a bit counter-intuituve as there can be a lot of work (= costs) involved with accepting used books - but I guess that's where the volunteers come in...
#5
Old 04-10-2006, 08:37 AM
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Sadly, although libraries are funded, they generally aren't funded enough. They spent enough money to completely rebuild our town library a few years ago (something it desperately needed), but last year they were so strapped for funds that we almost lost our accreditation. I'm appalled.
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#6
Old 04-10-2006, 09:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ea_calendula
Especially as it seems a bit counter-intuituve as there can be a lot of work (= costs) involved with accepting used books - but I guess that's where the volunteers come in...
To touch on this point, the acquisition of a donated book can involve the work of several different types of personnel. The book may need physical refurbishing, such as repairing torn pages which may be done by a paid clerk or library technical assistant. Routine preparation, such as adding the bar code and date-due sheets, may well be done by a volunteer, while the cataloging may be done by a graduate librarian. Each of these things is no enormous task, but when hundreds of books are being accepted, it can add up.
#7
Old 04-10-2006, 09:48 AM
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From what I've seen, although public libraries accept donated books, few of the donated books get added to the library's collection. Most are sold, along with older books weeded from the collection, to the public, perhaps by a "Friends of the Library" organisation (which will be run by volunteers). The proceeds of these sales are then used to help support the library.
#8
Old 04-10-2006, 10:06 AM
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Our local library has a budget of about $50K. Our funding (through local property taxes) has been level for five years at $33K. We make up the difference through fundraising and taking income from our modest endowment. We are hoping the town will vote for an increase next year but it still probably won't cover the entire budget.

We couldn't function without volunteers. We have a volunteer at the front desk while the librarian* works on administrative duties. Volunteers and (volunteer, elected) board members process new books and run programs and fundraising events.

We welcome donations of books, books on tape or CD, DVDs, VHS, whatever! Hardback and good condition softback books go on the shelves and the rest are available for sale throughout the year and at our annual sale. Again this is a welcome supplement to what we can afford to buy new.



*He's been there almost 20 years, and has an MLS, and we still can only afford to pay him ~$18/hour. [All financial data is public knowledge so no confidentiality has been broken!]
#9
Old 04-10-2006, 10:14 AM
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Librarian here. There used to be a lot of private "subscription libraries" in the U.S. Either you would pay an annual fee for borrowing privileges or you would rent the books, like taking a DVD home from Blockbuster. Benjamin Franklin founded a subscription library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, in 1731. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_...tes_of_America) Not many of those are left (there's a famous one in Boston but I forget its name). A "private library" nowadays is probably a rich bibliophile's personal collection, or a non-public school's library, or a "special library" attached to a business (e.g., a large engineering firm would maintain a library of technical books and journals, and have an MLS librarian on staff to manage it; and every sizeable law firm has its own law library). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_library.

Some tax-funded public libraries existed even in Colonial times, but they really came into their own after the Civil War. Industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was a big help there -- he built about 2,500 libraries for communities, on the understanding that he would fund only the building, and the town would have to provide the collection and hire the staff. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library.
#10
Old 04-10-2006, 10:20 AM
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Quote:
Not many of those are left (there's a famous one in Boston but I forget its name).
That'd be the Boston Athenaeum, which is still going strong, as you note.


The New England Geneaological Society also has its own private library. I had to use it once, and so had to pay.
#11
Old 04-10-2006, 10:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
Not many of those are left (there's a famous one in Boston but I forget its name).
You're probably thinking of The Boston Athenaeum. Boston also has the private French Library and the Goethe Institut. (There are probably more that I don't know about/can't think of.)
#12
Old 04-10-2006, 11:35 AM
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Our town offers cards free to anyone (as a "free" library). Other towns around here will charge non-town-residents for memberships, at the annual rate that the taxpayers pay through property taxes.

We don't charge late fees either; we just have a conscience box for voluntary donations. The only charge would be to replace a lost or damaged book.
#13
Old 04-10-2006, 12:35 PM
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I volunteer for the local public library here in St Louis. Missouri has a different system from most states. The legislature authorized the creation of library districts (similar to fire or water districts) who could then levy their own tax. The local librarians love this system since they are not dependent on the vagaries of the local county or city that does fund most library systems.

This is for a neighboring district.
"The St. Charles City-County Library District is a separate taxing district that serves all of St. Charles County. The District is supported by a property tax established by the voters of St. Charles County. Approximately 90% of the Library District's revenue is generated by property tax. The maximum tax the District may collect is $0.26 per hundred dollars of assessed valuation. Therefore, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay approximately $49.00 per year to the Library District." Cite.

In the US, we also have a strong tradition of volunteering for the library also, perhaps more than any other civic organization. Even libraries that are secure and fully funded will seek out volunteers so that they can use those funds for other purposes than personnel - to buy more books, or for capital and operating expenses. How and when that tradition began I do not know (yet). Dex wrote an excellent Staff Report in January where he mentioned volunteers can be a curse and a blessing: "Moreover, many professional librarians fear that reliance on volunteers will give government an excuse to cut budgets even more drastically."

Most major cities also have a mercantile library, which often is older than the public library. I think the majority of those are semi-private, funded mostly through the business community they serve. I imagine they might use volunteers also, but I have never heard of anyone that has done so.

AP
#14
Old 04-10-2006, 01:12 PM
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Another librarian checking. I've had people come up to me and ask me questions at the reference desk and then when I get up to walk over to find a book for them, they've said "Oh, you don't need to, you're just a volunteer."

I do my best to not say anything.
#15
Old 04-10-2006, 03:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Agnostic Pagan
I volunteer for the local public library here in St Louis. Missouri has a different system from most states. The legislature authorized the creation of library districts (similar to fire or water districts) who could then levy their own tax. The local librarians love this system since they are not dependent on the vagaries of the local county or city that does fund most library systems.
So they can levy any level of tax, or it has to be voted on by the residents?
#16
Old 04-10-2006, 04:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Giles
From what I've seen, although public libraries accept donated books, few of the donated books get added to the library's collection.
This varies. Our librarian looks through donations and adds relevant copies to the collection. It's kind of silly to sell off a donated hardback at the library sale for a buck and then spend $15.00 to buy a copy of the same title! She did tell me that in some jurisdictions (she specifically mentioned Texas) there are rules against putting donated books into the collection.

If you have recent books (especially hardbacks) in good condition, small libraries like ours love to get them. When they end up with ten copies of the latest Janet Evanovich or Stephen King, they'll pick the best one or two to put on the shelf and sell the rest.

If you have a large collection of junk (old tattered paperbacks, moldy books, book club editions of 20-year-old popular fiction, serial romances...), ask before you donate it. Libraries end up getting used as dumping ground for worthless books, and have to waste valuable staff or volunteer time figuring out a way to get rid of it.

My bookstore sells used books. Sometimes people come in with boxes of books to trade in, and I have to turn them down. I'll frequently hear, "No problem, I'll take them to the library." I then have to explain to the folks that the library won't want that stuff, either. If they donate it to the library, the library will pass it on to Friends of the Library, who will try to sell it. When it doesn't sell, the Friends will come and dump it off here.
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#17
Old 04-10-2006, 05:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
If you have recent books (especially hardbacks) in good condition, small libraries like ours love to get them. When they end up with ten copies of the latest Janet Evanovich or Stephen King, they'll pick the best one or two to put on the shelf and sell the rest.
We're also trying to collect multiple copies of recent best sellers so we can be a resource for local book groups; their members can all borrow a copy and not have to buy them.
#18
Old 04-10-2006, 06:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gigi
So they can levy any level of tax, or it has to be voted on by the residents?
Mu understanding is they have the authority to levy a tax up to a certain amount (which I am sure every district has done so), after which any increase has to be voted on. For capital bond issues, they need approval from the voters also.
#19
Old 04-10-2006, 11:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
My bookstore sells used books. Sometimes people come in with boxes of books to trade in, and I have to turn them down. I'll frequently hear, "No problem, I'll take them to the library." I then have to explain to the folks that the library won't want that stuff, either. If they donate it to the library, the library will pass it on to Friends of the Library, who will try to sell it. When it doesn't sell, the Friends will come and dump it off here.
Here, unsellable books are just stacked unsorted in a public area with a big "free" sign over them. They'll sit there for a few years, slowly dwindling away, then whatever's left is thrown out (generally, anything that's left truly is garbage).

Many people also bypass the whole donation and booksale phases and dump their old books into the free stack directly. You can find some great stuff that way.
#20
Old 04-11-2006, 06:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dusty
Here, unsellable books are just stacked unsorted in a public area with a big "free" sign over them.
Many smaller libraries (ours included) simply don't have the room to do this.
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