The Wauwatosa Public Library has become a more prominent feature in recent budget discussions and — supported especially by aldermen Peter Donegan, Jim Moldenhauer and Donald Birschel — will, in 2014, have a book budget $56,000 higher than it was at the beginning of this year.
The library had been languishing below "basic," or the lowest, category among its peers in terms of its material collection, and the additional funding has moved it up to solidly "moderate."
While moderate doesn't sound all that great, Library Director Mary Murphy is thrilled.
The materials budget "is our bread and butter," Murphy said. "It's just hugely important."
The increases in the book budget represent a change in priorities from years past. Because the library doesn't produce revenue, its funding was often one of the last things considered, aldermen have said. The current council has made it a higher priority, pointing to it as a matter of pride. In budget meetings, the word "jewel" has been used. It is the highest-circulating library in Milwaukee County.
"I'm just so grateful that the council was able to see what kind of condition that we had come to," Murphy said, "and the effect that it was having on purchasing power for books and magazines and ebooks and all the rest of it. It's huge."
The so-called book budget is used for the purchase of all library materials, Murphy said. That includes books, children's books, books on CD, ebooks, magazines and an electronic subscription to about 120 magazines that will come online in November.
"It's enormous," she said. "There were things that we were not able to do that other libraries could do, so now we're able to do some of that."
The fight for funding
Additional library funding was sought by Donegan during the budget process for 2013, which took place in the fall of 2012. When it didn't materialize, he pushed for a commitment that if lower-than-expected spending should allow, additional money would be allocated to the books budget.
Earlier this year, $36,000 was transferred to the library, moving the library up not quite to "moderate." That amount was budgeted again for 2014, and Donegan characterized it as "funding at levels less than I believe our community either expects or wants, and I believe that is a long-term pattern."
When, late in the budget process for next year, state funding came in higher than expected, the Budget Committee agreed to send another $20,000 to the library for its books budget.
Wear and tear
Murphy said in an early budget meeting that children's books sustain the greatest wear and tear, and certain favorites are bought again and again as they wear out. On the other end of the media landscape, Murphy and her staff have to keep up with the burgeoning demand for electronic materials.
The library has had certain materials online, free to city residents, for years, including Standard & Poor's, Consumer Reports, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others.
"These are all things that the library pays for, and what we are charged is predicated on population, so we pay more, for instance, than Hales Corners, for any of these subscriptions," she said.
The magazine database is new, and that will cost money, she said.
"As for the electronic books, and downloadible audiobooks, that is a statewide pool," she said.
Ebook purchases are rising, she said.
"We are spending 50 percent more in 2014 than we did in 2013," she said.
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