Dysmey Blog Archives  >  local library threat, part 2

local library threat, part 2

The Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, created in reaction to high property taxes in many counties as a result of property tax reform and the removal of some taxes (like those on inventory), has issued its final report. If you have Adobe Reader and a taste for official babble, you can read the full report.

Among the help, we're still in the 19th century! and property taxes are killing us chatter, it recommends for each county a single elected president with sweeping powers and an elected legislature. It recommends an appointed county assessor replacing those in each township. Townships would disappear; rural towns like Fairmount would lose most or all of their independence; and county judiciary and school districts would come under the control of the State by direct funding. This last bit is not a good thing, given how the State has so much trouble balancing its own budget. In fact I am told that counties were funding child welfare because it was dumped on them by the State; the commission wants the State to take child welfare back!

On Schools

Schools exist in order that people may learn, may gain knowledge. For knowledge — and such means to gain it as literacy, numeracy and methods to discern what history and the physical sciences are about — make for better people, or at least better citizens.

Schools are not there to field sports teams for the short-term vent of the locals. They are not there for vocational or industrial training for the short-term vent of business. They are not there to change society for the assinine utopian vent of professors in Chicago, New York or Boston.

If we do not realize that schools are places of learning, not of entertainment, training or social engineering, then it does not matter whether the school is small or large. A school that does not teach its pupils anything is a waste of money, no matter what its size.

That is another reason why local government reform for schools is futile. What is the point of consolidating schools when they will just be more cost-effective athletic team centers and producers of morons? This is especially true in Indiana, where basketball is the one true ???. The commission does not touch on this point, which makes its recommendations bootless.

Anyway, the only way the local Madison-Grant school district would meet the commission's recommendations would be to merge with Alexandria and the southern half of an Eastbrook district broken up along State Road 22. That would make the most use of all those new buildings and extensions to the school complex on State Road 9, which make up the bulk of property taxes in the Madison-Grant school district. The commission's recommendations will also make it more difficult for the new school board to pull the same kind of stunt that the old one did in approving the latest extensions with minimal public input.

On Libraries

The most of this entry deals with libraries, as you would expect from an employee of a university library and the secretary of a public library board.

Libraries are collections of books, magazines and readable online services. They exist to let people read, to let people learn. Libraries allow adults to extend their educations. More recently they let people without computers of their own to access the Internet.

Now let's list the recommendations relevant to libraries:

18. Reorganize library systems by county and provide permanent library service for all citizens.

I have already pointed out in an earlier post that there will be resistance in Grant County against any merger with Marion, towards which the county is hostile. Cost savings are not relevant to a local citizenry that regards its county seat as a moribund drag on the rest of the county.  Nor would the Marion Library board welcome being dissolved to make room for a new board with members from all parts of the county, which a new Grant County library district would require.

The committee thinks that libraries exist to maximize access to whatever at minimum cost. Never mind that:

As our librarian Linda pointed out, nothing bars a visitor from an unserved part of the State against coming to our library and reading a book, making a photocopy or using a computer. The visitor may not be allowed to check the book out (unless they have a general Public Library Access Card), but that does not stop them from using the library's services on the premises. That is why the map on page 33 is nonsensical. It is also outdated, now that Liberty Township west of town has joined the library district. (Services would also be offered to Green Township, on the southwest corner of the county, except that its trustee is elusive and difficult to contact.)

The committee also recommended keeping existing libraries, but this is really na´ve. Once a consolidation is complete, the first thing a new library board will do is to cut costs; and the smaller once-libraries-but-now-branches will be the first to go.

19. Require that budgets and bonds of library … districts be approved by the fiscal body of the … county government.

I do not know what is meant by fiscal body. I assume it means the Grant County council, who appoints our library board members anyway. Or does that mean the Fairmount town board? Currently our budget is submitted for approved the same State agency that approves the city, county and school budgets. Is that agency going to go away? Or will we have to submit our library budget to two separate government entities, either of which can reject the budget without consulting the other?

Anyway, we at the Fairmount Library Board have strived to NOT repeat the mistakes of the Madison-Grant school board, to NOT issue bonds for the new library, to NOT impose any tax burden on the citizens of the town/township of Fairmount. And we have been rewarded for our efforts. It is not right that we should be punished for the fiscal follies of other localities like Indianapolis and Muncie.

It is also na´ve to assert that fiscal restraint works best in the hands of city and county councils. Grant County's finances were a stinking mess of mismanagement and lack of oversight until Mike Burton took over as auditor and put a collar on the county budget, ignoring the weeping and the gnashing of teeth from throughout the county. But not every city and county has a Mike Burton.

20. Strengthen the current joint purchasing infrastructure for libraries.

The only services infrastructure for Indiana libraries known to me is INCOLSA, which cataloging, cooperative purchasing and discounts, database access, eLearning, shared library catalogs, [virtual library services], [interlibrary loan], technology training and support, automation consulting, OCLC services and more. There are no other such service, and the report does not mention these additional joint resources and service arrangements (p. 35) by name.

I am told that the General Assembly forced the Indiana State Library to switch to another interlibrary loan (ILL) provider to save money. But the service has proven to be so nonfunctional (ILL requests are lost or never filled) that our library has pulled out.

I have no beef with this recommendation as such; but it will have to be coupled with services that actually work and a hands-off approach by the General Assembly, whose interventions have so far proved damaging.

Posted on the Dysmey Blog on 13 2007.