Public libraries are pillars of communities, and the funds they receive go into much more than just a book budget.
The vast majority of funding for public libraries comes from local sources, said Gloria Meraz, director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. These funds will be used for a range of programs that address specific community needs, such as early childhood literacy, English as a second language, staff development and GED education, she said.
“Libraries are in an interesting position,” said Dayna Williams-Capone, director of the Victoria Public Library. “We are the government. We are education and we are a kind of non-profit organization. “
The funds for public libraries are usually a budget item of the city or the district, said Meraz.
In Victoria, around 90% of the library’s funding comes from local sales taxes, Williams-Capone said.
In the coastal district of Calhoun, the four public libraries are funded from the district budget, said library director Noemi Cruz.
Funding for public libraries varies from city to city and county to county, Williams-Capone said.
“Funding depends on how the city’s economy is doing,” she said.
Typically, cities with a larger tax base have larger library budgets, Meraz said. Before COVID-19, library budgets remained stable year after year. While there wasn’t much growth, there weren’t any major budget cuts until the pandemic caused library budgets to shrink due to lower economic activity.
The rest of their funding comes through donations, fundraisers, and support from the state library in the form of grant opportunities, Williams-Capone said.
In Victoria, a grant was recently used to renovate the library meeting room. The library is hoping to use another to improve the use of its outdoor spaces, Williams-Capone said.
Meanwhile, in September 2020, Calhoun County received a $ 10,000 grant to purchase children’s books for a program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, Cruz said.
Library funds go into a variety of programs that help empower the community, Meraz said.
“Libraries are essentially a service organization,” she said. “They may be places where people can get books, but what libraries do is make sure people have access to what they need.”
Finding the wants and needs of the community is an important function of a public library, said Williams-Capone, and was a focus of the Victoria Library’s strategic plan.
When interviewing the community to identify these needs, it is important to emphasize that this is not the library but the community as a whole, she said. “It’s really our job to listen, see and interpret the big picture, and see where the library fits.”
One community need could be increased early education to prepare children for kindergarten, Williams-Capone said. To respond to such needs, a library can begin teaching children the standards they need to reach before they reach school age.
“The children who have problems may be the ones who didn’t have that opportunity,” she said. “We want to offer this possibility.”
One of the ways Williams-Capone said that the Victoria Library offers people opportunity is by working with Goodwill to teach courses about finding work. In the past, they’ve also partnered with Workforce Solutions to do the same thing.
As the world moves increasingly online, it is important that libraries provide facilities such as e-mailing and internet access for work.
“A place where people can have internet and apply for jobs could be the greatest need in the community,” she said.
After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Crossroads in 2017, the Victoria Library partnered with the American Red Cross. Parishioners in distress due to the hurricane could use the library as a place to apply for aid, Williams-Capone said.
In addition to programs that meet the widespread needs of the community, libraries also offer light-hearted, fun programs.
In Victoria, those programs include book groups, music programs, and craft events, Williams-Capone said. The library recently hosted a pumpkin painting event, and they are preparing to host a gingerbread house workshop that is expected to use 1,200 people.
Calhoun County has similar programs like story lessons for kids, book lovers, craft and play days, and even a crochet group that meets in the library, Cruz said.
Providing education and entertainment programs is what libraries are really about, said Williams-Capone.
“What does a library do?” She said. “We are a trustworthy community resource and can contribute something to improve this community.”