Libraries are transparent and accountable
By Debbie Cosper, Boyd County Public Library Director
There has been a great deal written about State Auditor Edelen’s report on Special Districts, most of it negative, or worse, conflicting.
Libraries have been referred to as “ghost governments.” This is just not the case. We are overseen by the State Librarian and Commissioner and the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives; we file our budgets with our county clerk and judge-executive offices; we submit annual budget reports to the Department for Local Government; and we publish our budgets in the local paper. Our boards are appointed and removed by the county judge-executive and commissioners; we have annual audits; and all board meetings are open to the public.
In fact, even the state auditor’s report says as much, when it says KDLA and the Kentucky Public Library Association “put a great deal of effort to provide the public with as much transparency and accountability as possible. In addition, they have gone to great lengths to ensure their members have the training necessary to be able to provide these things.”
Boyd County Public Library is governed by a five-member board. Board members are non-partisan. They have been selected not on their popularity or personal agenda, but because they have a desire to see that the library provides the most efficient, cost-effective, and useful services, staff, and programs possible for the community.
Yes, libraries have the ability to tax, but only within strict state guidelines. Until recently libraries had nearly no option to lower tax rates, but as soon as it became possible BCPL lowered rates by nearly 7 points. Yes, we have a reserve – for two reasons. First, our fiscal year begins July 1 but the earliest we might receive the bulk of our revenue is mid-November. Because we rely on outside entities to calculate rates, set property values, and collect our taxes the library has to be prepared to go six months without revenue – it would not be fiscally responsible to take out a loan. Second, the library has long-term repair, remodel, and construction plans. By being frugal now, we have a reserve that allows us to handle these projects without having to borrow money.
In addition, the library has policies that govern operations, ethics, finances and the board, which are regularly reviewed and updated. All policy documents, financial statements, audits, and budgets are on the library’s website. All public service staff, department supervisors, and board members have or are working toward state certification or renewal. Most importantly, the board of trustees meets in open, public meetings on the Monday of each month at 4 p.m.
BCPL branches were open for a total of 9,568 hours last year. Last year we served over 466,000 people through 485,104 checkouts; held 834 programs attended by 21,322 people; provided 38,770 computer sessions; and answered 78,274 reference questions. We also had a record summer reading program participation of just over 800 children.
The library spent 45% of its budget last year ($1.4 million) on personnel, and nearly 25% on materials ($947,000). The rest went to operating expenses like supplies, utilities, and programming.
The library serves 49,500 county residents through three branches and outreach delivery to homebound users, along with an online branch that provides checkouts through e-materials, reference services through 24-7 online access, and access to 90 different databases. We serve the rich, poor, homeless, homeschoolers, all political affiliations, people of all religions, colors, and ages. We provide balanced, unbiased collections for every interest.
Studies have shown that stable, established, up-to-date, and responsive libraries are as important to economic development as the quality of schools, the variety of entertainment, and the number of good neighborhoods. BCPL’s board, director and staff spend their time making sure the library does everything it can to be an ethical, efficient, and economical part of the community.