The value of a public library isn’t lost on Peg Mawby, especially in her rural, one-streetlight town.
The head librarian of Capital Area District Libraries’ Webberville branch for years has watched as curious schoolchildren roamed inside, anxious to check out another book or to log onto the nearest computer and catch up on homework. Libraries are important to any community, she said. But in her town, it fills a widening gap.
“This is quite a small community, and at this point in time, there really isn’t much here,” Mawby said. “You have to go somewhere else for just about anything. The fact that we can offer anything for the community is a good thing. Having libraries out there as place to go for activities is really valuable to me and this community.”
CADL this year seeks to renew a millage that for years has kept shelves and staff stocked at more than a dozen local library branches and continues to fuel family-oriented, educational opportunities for thousands of area residents. The 1.56-mill levy accounts for 90 percent of library funding; Officials say its passage is essential.
“It’s pretty much our mandatory source for funding,” said CADL’s Executive Director, Scott Duimstra. “Without it, we wouldn’t be able to function. This is important. We feel we’re a strong community partner and regardless of how you use your local library, we hope voters can see that too.”
The millage is usually an easy sell. Voters since the ‘90s have consistently opted to dedicate a portion of their property taxes to the library system — earmarking funds for things like materials, staff and general operations. The same rate has been in effect since 2010 and was renewed in 2014 with an overwhelming 77 approval rate.
Duimstra said taxpayers are seeing a return on their investment. More than 4.8 million visits were logged to CADL libraries since 2014. More than 10 million items have been loaned out in that same timeframe, and more than a quarter-million people have attended various events throughout the 13 publicly funded branches.
“Another one of the largest impacts in the community is access to technology,” Duimstra said, tallying about 1.7 million public computer and wireless sessions in the last four years. “This access to materials and technology for the general public ultimately strengthens these communities and the workforce.”
And it’s not just about paperback books.
Duimstra said CADL has managed to keep afloat in the digital age with a wide collection of electronic reading materials that has been steadily growing for more than 12 years. Mawby said libraries like the one in Webberville still very much comprise the bedrock of her local community.
“Some people can’t go out and spend $7.99 on a magazine,” Mawby added. “You can actually save a lot of money by using a library. And you can’t underscore the educational aspect. Michigan has not been doing well in terms of (early childhood literacy). Libraries still play an important role for these schools.”
Duimstra emphasized the millage renewal does not represent a tax increase.
The request — identical to the version that passed in 2014 — will continue to provide the same level of funding for 13 branches and a mobile library while services continue to expand. Taxes for library services will not increase as part of the measure.
“If it did not pass, we’d have to go back to our library board and they would determine what to do next,” Duimstra said.
“We’d probably quickly turn around and try to get it back on the November ballot but if it didn’t pass in November, it would really be a dire situation for us.”