Waste in Florida’s Public Libraries

In Florida there are two public library systems. Public libraries are run by both the local sixty-seven county governments and county school boards. In Florida school districts have the same boundaries as the do the counties. A 2004 study by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis reports, “In FY 2004 Florida public libraries received $443 million to support all offered services. Given that almost all public library services are delivered locally, it is not surprising to see that almost all funding from public libraries are provided locally.”

The Executive Summary of the 2004 report describes the methodology to determine what the return on investment to Florida is for its public library system. The Executive Summary states, “The total economic return attributable to the existence of the public libraries is $2.9 billion — based on an analysis of what would happen if the public libraries ceased to exist: includes the net benefits (added costs to use alternatives), the benefits that would be lost because users would not bother to use alternatives, and revenues that would be lost by vendors, contractors, etc.”

The return on public library investment was determined using a methodology called “contingent valuation“. Many economists question the use of contingent valuation or stated preference to determine willingness to pay for a good, preferring to rely on people’s revealed preferences in binding market transactions. Early contingent valuation surveys were often open-ended questions. The economic method of evaluation in the 2004 survey for non-priced goods and services looked at the implications of not having the goods/services. The study considered the implications of not having public libraries. The contingent valuation methodology of library users was used to determine, in large part, the ROI of public libraries.

Based on the surveys the study states, “[C]onsidered the implications of not funding the public libraries, but of redistributing the money to alternative government spending activities. Projecting forward over 32 years (2004-2035), the REMI model indicated that if funding for public libraries was reallocated across Florida’s government sectors, the state economy would result in a net decline of $5.6 billion in wages and 68,700 in jobs.”

The study does not address passing savings on to taxpayers and its potential impact on Florida’s local economy of infusing $5.6 billion into the private sector. Rather it focused on redistributing the funds from closed public libraries to other Florida governmental functions.

The study did not address the duplicitous public library systems. For example in Sarasota County, FL there are seven public libraries. The Sarasota County School Board has twenty-four Elementary Schools, nine Middle Schools, nine High Schools, six Special Schools, three Alternative Schools and eleven Charter Schools. The county public libraries are all within a short distance (less that two miles) of a school and in every case multiple schools. There is a proposal to build a new $7.65 million library in the Gulf Gate community. The proposed new library is within two miles of the brand new Sarasota County Technical Institute and the Adult & Community Enrichment Center at SCTI.

The study does not address the long term costs of the library staff. According to Salary.com the average salary for a librarian is in Sarasota County is $49,314, Manatee County $49,625 and Hillsborough County $50,107.  Many librarians are members of the Florida Retirement System, a system that costs taxpayers over $5 billion and will rise to $11 billion to keep solvent.

None of these factors were or are considered when assessing the true long term ROI of running public libraries.

Finally, with the growth of the Internet a third “virtual library” is available to all Floridians at no cost to taxpayers. The long term impact of the internet on reading, researching, personal and professional database use is not addressed in detail in the 2004 study. The publication and use of digital or E-Books is growing exponentially. Digital Book World (DBW) magazine noted in a March 2012 column that, “Total trade revenues were up to $503.5 million in January 2012 from $396 million in January 2011, a 27.1% increase, according to the latest figures from the Association of American Publishers. E-books led the way with $128.8 million in revenue in January 2012 versus $73.2 million in January 2011, a 76% increase.”

“Children’s e-book revenue grew the most in terms of percent growth, up 475.1% to $22.6 million from $3.9 million, but adult trade e-books were up the most in real dollars to $99.5 million versus $66.6 million. The adult trade e-book business is now on track to reach nearly $1.2 billion in 2012,” states DBW.

The rapid use and cost effective downloading of E-Books is not addressed in the 2004 study.

Duplication creates waste and doubly so when done by government at the expense of the Florida taxpayer.