Everybody loves free. Sometimes, the fact that something is free is more important than whether or not you want that thing, whether it’s a piece of clothing from a friend, a book from the basement laundry room, or a chair by the side of the road (ever wonder where all the clutter in your house comes from?)
We often say that you can get books (and movies, and magazines, and music…) for free at the library, and you can! But of course, it isn’t exactly free; your taxes help pay for it, and the library receives generous donations through the Friends of the Library every year. However, you’ll probably find that, even if you only use the library a couple times a year, it’s still a very, very good deal.
How good? Visit ILoveLibraries.org and use the Library Value Calculator to find out how much the library is worth to you. Just enter your annual use on the left side (“input”), and hit “calculate” at the bottom. For example, say you check out one book a month, which is twelve books a year. If you had bought those books instead, you would have spent about $204. Now say you only check out six books a year, but six movies as well: that’s a $126 value.
All right, now how does that compare to how many of your tax dollars go to support the library? In FY2010, library spending per capita in Arlington was $44.57.* So if you borrowed just one book, two movies, and a museum pass over the course of the year (a $45 total value), your taxes are already more than worth it. And, if you’re one of those people who visits the library on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis to check out books and movies, attend programs, use a study room, read a newspaper or magazine, use a public computer or wireless access, or ask questions at the reference desk, well then…you’re getting a great value.
If you’re still doubtful of the library’s worth, let’s compare it to other things you might spend $44 on. That amount could get you a subscription to Netflix (streaming only)…for just five months. It could get you four and a half albums from iTunes. It could get you your morning coffee…for about two weeks. It would just about cover movie tickets for a family of four, but it wouldn’t stretch to dinner. It might get you a pair of jeans, depending on where you shop.
Forty-four dollars already gets you unlimited access to tens of thousands of books, thousands of movies and e-books and audiobooks, and dozens of magazine and newspaper subscriptions; access to museum passes, study rooms, and public computers, and programs like storytime for children, concerts for teens, and local author talks for adults; and of course, free help from friendly librarians who are equipped to help with your information needs.
Furthermore, municipal funding is significant not just because of what it allows the library to provide in terms of materials and staff, but because with it, the library meets the municipal appropriations requirement (MAR) to qualify for state aid to public libraries. Certified libraries – such as Robbins (and Fox)! – receive state aid, and get to participate in resource-sharing consortia like our own Minuteman Library Network. Arlington libraries receive over $40,000 in state aid, and the interlibrary loan (ILL) system enables Robbins and Fox to borrow from, and lend to, other libraries in the consortium. In FY11, Arlington library patrons benefited tremendously from this arrangement, requesting and receiving 67,897 loans from other libraries, worth nearly $1.7 million.
All that for $44. Worth it? We think so.
*Public library data is available from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC); see the “Public Library Share of the FY2010 Massachusetts Municipal Pie” report (PDF). See municipal budget data in the Town of Arlington Annual Report.