As Denton County officials ponder the recommended 2014 budget, funding appeals from various departments and the tax rate, there is at least one certainty: Public libraries are getting less money.
Libraries in Denton County are set for a near $39,000 drop in funding from the county if commissioners approve the current budget. Funding has been a downward trend for the past decade, at least as officials seek to do more under the constraints of the economy and libraries keep going with what funding they have.
“We’re not seeing a huge drop-off in funding; we’re kind of on an even keel,” said Phyllis Tillery, Pilot Point’s library director. “We stay about the same as far as patrons coming in, and [with] funding, we haven’t noticed a big hit. I know a lot of libraries have it a lot worse than we do.”
Pilot Point is set to received $12,770 in the 2014 budget, down slightly from $13,230 last year.
The user traffic through the library has changed in recent years, Tillery said. Because of technology, libraries have had to adjust the services they provide in other areas.
“Pilot Point is an older community,” Tillery said. “We have a large senior population — of course, some of them have gone with technology, but very, very few. They still count on us to provide print material and movies and the other services.”
Tillery said the staff spends time training folks on how to use computers and apply for jobs if needed.
Many of the library’s regular patrons have begun using electronic readers at home, she said.
“We still have kids that read, not as many as we would like,” Tillery said. “There’s not much you can do, just adapt to what the community’s needs are and try to serve them as best you can with whatever resources they are needing now.”
County Judge Mary Horn said she felt the county was funding libraries appropriately.
“And we’ve asked other departments to tighten their belt,” Horn said. “We need to apply that consistency across the board.”
Since 2005, the county has shaved nearly $337,000 from libraries’ annual funding. Horn said the county provides the funds to the county library board, whose members determine how the money will be divvied out to the libraries in the county.
Some cities have gone away from county funding. Plano, Coppell and Denton received no funding last year; Denton hasn’t received county funds for its library since 2006.
Denton charges a user fee for non-residents who check out materials from the library. Horn said that provides the city library about the same amount of money as what the county used to provide.
“Other cities have elected to use that process also,” she said. “That is totally their decision.”
Horn said there is never any push for the cities to adopt a similar fee program to get away from county funds.
“There may come a day when those cities all decide to do a user fee — that’s up to them,” she said.
Even with the steady decline in funding, Horn said libraries are going to remain an important part of the community for many years.
“There used to be nothing but magazines and books in libraries,” she said. “Now there are computers and movie rentals; they certainly serve a purpose.”
Caroline Holcomb, with the Ponder Public Library, thinks a little differently.
“Our small library, for instance, we can only afford to have one copy of each book. ... We’re struggling to keep our library open,” she said.
As others have done, she touted the use of computers for job searchers but sees fewer people seeking other things.
“I do foresee a day when there are no libraries. Actual books are going out of style and that is just too bad,” she said. “It breaks my heart because I am a longtime lover of books, and that is what is going to happen. I feel the young are quicker to download it on their e-readers and their phones.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.