The influence of governance structure and size of public libraries on the provision and production of library service
Municipal libraries in parts of the United States have suffered budget cuts in the last two decades. Their budgets, while small relative to other municipal services, are vulnerable where municipalities must hold constant or reduce spending because library spending cuts are perceived to pose a few threats to public health or safety. A special district may be an attractive alternative form of organization for the provision of public library services. Library district boundaries can be adjusted more easily than municipal to include relevant communities of interest and to extend services to unserved populations. Special districts have access to their own tax base and, therefore, may avoid service reduction pressures that confront municipal libraries. But special districts are not without their critics. Critics of district libraries say that they may be unresponsive to the public and that district services may cost more than their municipal counterparts. This research explores possible advantages and disadvantages of special district provision of library services, using data from library systems of the state of Illinois.
District libraries in Illinois are shown to have contributed to extension of library services to previously unserved populations over the 1980-1990 decade. Libraries that changed from municipal to district status were able to maintain funding while in many cases, reducing per capita burden on taxpayers by expanding service boundaries. Based on reports of decision making in Illinois public libraries, no evidence was found that districts are less responsive to their publics than other forms of library organization. Nor was evidence found that district organization of public libraries makes service provision more expensive or that it affects patterns of library production. This research suggests that special district provision can be a useful mechanism to preserve and extend library service by local government.
Area planning & development
0399: Library science
0999: Urban planning
0999: Area planning & development