Kansas library advocacy reflections (so far)

Q: When was the last time 95% of Americans agreed any anything?

A: In 2013, when 95% of Americans agreed that: 

  • the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed
  • 95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading
  • Source: A December 2013 study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project)

On Thursday night after I had worked with Laura DeBaun (NEKLS System Director) to craft this very message over the phone in my hotel room in Philadelphia (as a work conference I was attending was ending), after afternoon virtual meetings with Kansas librarians who are on the Kansas Library Association governmental affairs committee, and sent this initial post out…. Exhaustion hit.

And then, I realized, that exhaustion is what the Kansas education community has felt like for years. And last night, it had only been 24 hours since we’d been made aware of this bill.

72 hours have now passed since we became aware of this bill, and I am so proud of the stories I’ve seen shared, the righteous anger I’m seeing online (at least through FB search), that Marci Penner, Executive Director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation is aware of the situation now, and I’m hoping and praying that this situation is the final straw.

Others have explained the situation much better than I have, including this history of the regional library systems from the Central Kansas Library System and this post from Tom Taylor at Andover Public Library. But here’s the gist of HB2719’s impact on regional library systems:

  1. The bill caps system library mill levy abilities at .75, which in many system cases would drastically reduce system budgets.
  2. The bill also would require systems to put up budgets for a vote in the counties systems levy taxes in. In the Northeast Kansas Library System’s case (who I work for), that would require 11 county elections, and if we have to bear the cost of those elections, it would cripple us. If we can’t pass a budget, the bill has no recourse, we have interpreted to mean we would have no budget.

Modestly funded public services are vital and important, and tax dollars spent wisely, efficiently, and responsibly for critical community services like libraries — who know how to stretch dollars — and for sharing systems that multiple dollars and investments are crucial and wise investments of your local tax dollars. For many residents, it’s the cost of a couple of lattes.

Please keep contacting your legislators; the House Taxation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on HB2719 on Monday afternoon at 3:30pm at the Statehouse. OpenStates.org allows you to find up your local representative’s contact information; please contact that person. Also, contact the House Taxation Committee Membership. The Kansas Library Association talking points are available, if you need some guidance.

I hope this situation finally wakes people up. If nothing else has, maybe threatening public libraries finally will. After all, a December 2013 study released the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that:

  • 95% of Americans ages 16 and older agree that the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed;
  • 95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading;
  • 94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community;
  • 81% say that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere.

I’ll end where I began: When was the last time 95% of Americans ever agreed on ANYTHING? 

Full disclosure: I am an employee of a Kansas regional library system. These thoughts are my own and not my employer’s. I am not advocating for my job. I am advocating for the citizens of Kansas who deserve maintaining equity and efficient public library service by keeping current funding models and practices in place, and oppose HB2719 as a result.