I was standing behind the circulation desk when a boy approached me with a puzzled look on his face. I’m not sure how old he was; maybe a precocious 10-year-old, maybe a short 12-year-old. He looked around the room, then turned to me and said, “How do you make money around here anyway? I mean, where does your money come from?”
“Well,” I started, but he jumped in ahead of me. “Do you just sell books and make all your money that way?”
I explained that we did have book sales, but that wasn’t nearly enough money to run the library. And I set out to give him a basic rundown of library financing. I told him that some libraries have a levy, which means that when people pay their taxes, some of that money is sent to the library. But in Pocahontas County, we don’t have a levy that supports our libraries. So the County Commission, in an effort to help keep the libraries open and running, includes the libraries in the Hotel/Motel tax money distribution. “That’s where most of our money comes from—about 55 percent of our income.”
Then I explained how the state legislature sets a dollar amount to give to libraries based on how many people live in the county. We only have 8,719 people in Pocahontas County, so we get roughly $44,000 from the state.
Then I told him about the help we receive from other areas: the Board of Education contributes money toward the libraries, and helps us by leasing the Hillsboro Library to us for $1 a year, plus they pay the utilities for the Hillsboro Library. Snowshoe leases the Linwood Library for $1 year, too.
“Plus,” I told him, “we have a lot of people who donate money to the libraries every year, because they think what we do is important.”
He thought about this for a minute, then asked what would happen if we stopped getting money from the state or the County Commission. “What would you do?” he asked.
“We would have to make some tough decisions,” I said. “Maybe we would have to stop buying new books. Or shorten our hours. Or even, if our budget cut was really bad, we might have to close one or two branches.”
He went very still.
“That would be bad,” he said.
I nodded in agreement.
What great questions this boy had! I loved the fact that he was actually looking at the library and wondering about funding, and sustainability. Our biggest challenge, along with most libraries in West Virginia, is the fact that our funding is not secure. We rely on tourists coming to stay in our county, and that leaves us up in the air every single year as the board tries to plan and execute our operating budget.
Looking back, I should have given him a copy of our budget. It’s a public document, meaning anyone can come in and request to see our operating budget at any time. I think he might have enjoyed seeing it. If you would enjoy seeing our budget, or talking with me about library finances, please stop by or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you about the state of our library system.