Potomac voters to decide fate of library

POTOMAC — A town hall meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 28, to discuss an upcoming voter referendum on converting Potomac’s village library to a library district.

The meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Potomac Community Building, is sponsored by the Vote Yes Committee, Friends of the Library, who are encouraging support for the district to keep the town’s public library from closing.  

If approved by voters on the March 20 ballot, the Potomac Public Library District will serve all residents of the Potomac school district. Rural families then could obtain library cards without paying the current $25 non-resident fee each year, Library Director Elizabeth Osborn said.

Library board President Rebecca Howie said passage of the referendum is critical for the library to continue operating.

“Our 79-year-old public library is at risk of closing its doors for good. The library needs consistent, adequate funding to provide new materials, activities and services that patrons want; to afford a part-time librarian; address our aging building’s significant maintenance needs; and simply to meet day-to-day operating costs.”

Tax appropriations, which provide the majority of the library’s operating revenue, have been stagnant for many years, providing as little as $1,000 to $3,000 annually for wages, utilities, materials and other expenses. Continued underfunding drained the library’s reserves, and it has only enough remaining funds to stay open a few months unless voters pass the referendum, Howie said.

“It’s a testament to how much people love this little library that it’s been able to stay open this long on a shoestring budget,” Howie said. “Potomac is a low-income area, and the people who would be hardest hit if the library were to close are children who’d lose programs that support learning and literacy, and residents who depend on our public computers to hunt for jobs.”

The new library district would be funded by a tax levy of one fifteenth of a cent per $100 of the equalized assessed valuation of all property within the school district. The library would receive about $30,000 annually — funding comparable to that of nearby libraries serving similar-sized populations, Howie said.

For a property with an EAV of $33,000, the appropriation would be about $49.

Students at Potomac Grade School, which has been without a school librarian for some time, could receive librarian services through the library district, if it begins operations July 1. Under a proposal submitted to the school board, the library district would pay its library director to staff the school library five hours weekly during the school year, in addition to her hours at the public library.

“Both the public library and the school support our children’s academic achievement; sharing our limited resources to accomplish that makes economic sense, especially in such a small community,” Howie said. “The children are our future, and we owe them the opportunity to succeed in life, beginning right here in their own hometown.”

Potomac Grade School Superintendent Larry Maynard set he has met with representatives of the Potomac library “and share in their commitment to continue with this educational opportunity for our students and community.”

Maynard said the library representatives’ proposal to the public has opportunities for partnership with the school that would provide a part-time librarian as well as an additional resource for students.

“We appreciate the hard work that our public library board is doing to continue to enhance resources for our community,” Maynard said.

A retired elementary school teacher, Osborn already offers free tutoring to Potomac students through the Homework Club she recently started at the public library.

Other learning activities offered at the library include a 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten early literacy program, a summer reading program for older children and Lego challenges. Osborn plans to add an I’m Ready for Kindergarten program soon to help preschoolers successfully transition to the classroom.

Since taking over as library director in May 2015, Osborn has striven to transform the struggling public library by offering innovative new activities and programs for all ages. During 2017, 399 children and 465 adults visited the library, significant upticks over 2016, Osborn said.

The library facility has undergone a makeover too. With several recent grants from the John P. Cadle Foundation of Danville, a new circulation desk and guest seating, and new computers for staff and public use were installed, and a children’s room is being created with a memorial grant from a local family.

A $5,000 Cadle grant awarded in December is funding installation of bookshelves with adjustable shelves so that patrons can browse titles or locate books more easily.

Avid readers will find many new books, which were donated by other libraries and by patrons.

Movie lovers soon will be able to borrow DVDs from the library through a new collection being funded by a grant from Gifford State Bank, Howie said.

With the tax levy in place, the library board plans to rejoin the Heartland/SHARE Library System, a service that patrons have been requesting. Membership in the library system also will make the library eligible for state of Illinois per-capita grants, which could support routine operating costs like personnel and library system fees, as well as much-needed maintenance projects such as replacing the library’s roof or its inefficient fluorescent lighting, Howie said.

The village board encouraged the library trustees to form a district library to obtain sustainable funding, recognizing that a thriving library is an asset to the broader community.

“Studies conducted in various states show that libraries are good economic investments for communities, generating from $1 to $6 in revenue for every tax dollar they receive,” said

Marguerite Bailey, who is a village trustee as well as a member of the Vote Yes Committee.

“A well-resourced library that offers an array of interesting activities and materials enhances quality of life for all our residents.”



 

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