6/22/2014 7:04:00 AM Editorial: Time to get to the facts of library usage
Talking off the top of one's head in a public meeting can be a dangerous practice. This is especially true when the discussion begs for real facts and figures.
Last week, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors started the discussion of the county library network budget. It is an important discussion that will go on for months as they sort through operations and financing.
Everyone needs clear numbers about the usage of the 42 libraries in the network. As has been the case in Camp Verde, too many opinions have been based on individual supposition and limited observation rather than on data.
Unfortunately for the conversation, statements were made at the supervisors meeting that did not come off well. Supervisor Tom Thurman made guesses, or at least a "bet," regarding the number of county residents who use a library. A Prescott council member drove all the way to Cottonwood to tell the supervisors that the local library was in competition with local businesses. Supervisor Chip Davis suggested cutting library hours and using more volunteers to save costs.
Above all, the idea of user fees was floated.
Library District Director Barbara Kile had facts that should have stopped some of the off-the-cuff brainstorming, but it is unclear whether she was heard.
Kile asserted that 149,665 residents of the county have a library card. While that does not guarantee all of these people are frequenting a library, it certainly indicates the percentage is far higher than the 5-10 percent conjectured by Thurman.
A public facility will almost always have private competition. Public schools compete with private schools. Public pools compete with water parks. Public golf courses compete with private clubs.
And Davis should already know that many of the 42 libraries, municipal and rural, are already on abbreviated schedules and rely heavily on volunteers. The supervisors should also already be aware that grant money - a major funding source - is tied to not charging fees. Charging user fees would cost more than it saves.
The county does need to fix a system that is way over-budget on libraries in unincorporated communities. Hard data may surprise the pro-library and anti-library factions, but no real discussion can start without it.