Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Value of Libraries

A recent Bangor Daily News articles highlights the economic, cultural, & educational value of libraries. The article can be linked to here: http://bangordailynews.com/detail/90917.html.

The most telling part of the article to me is the dollar value of the services at the library used by the author, Rosemary Herbert, during a recent visit to her library in Rockport. In that one visit to her library, Ms. Herbert determined the services provided & materials borrowed to have a value of $233. Without putting too much thought into whether this a tremendous bargain or not, I'm just going to assume that this is a tremendous bargain.

But ... I think I'll also put much thought into this as well.

The most recent annual report for the Bangor Public Library lists the average amount of tax revenue per Bangor resident toward the operating cost of the library at $48.42 per taxpayer.

Here are some figures & observations to mull over:

* A fair estimate for the cost of a home Internet connection through Time Warner, a leading Internet service provider in the area, is around $40 per month. $48.42 is roughly the cost of five to six weeks of a home Internet connection.

*An estimate of the average price for a new hardcover book is between $18 and $30, an average price for a new paperback is between $6 and $15. If you only read books you could buy, $48.42 would limit you only to two or three (new) books per year.

*Most magazine subscriptions for individuals run between $15 to $30 per year, with some specialized magazines costing much more. $48.42 would most likely limit a person to only two subscriptions per year, meaning you'd have to choose between Time or Newsweek (or The Economist or The New York Review of Books) if you also already subscribe to Down East Magazine.

*Most books on CD & cassette cost $30 or more each, while the Playaways offered at the library cost $40 to $60 each. $48.42 might not even be enough to buy one of these, depending on what & where you're buying.

*The databases available on Marvel!, Maine's Virtual Library, utilized by college students, business professionals, health care professionals, and the regular citizen cost the state about seven million dollars per year. This averages out to between four & five dollars per taxpayer, a fair sum considering that many scientific, technical, and medical journals could charge an individual upwards of $40 for a single journal article download. Believe me, I've seen it -- though, fortunately, there are legal ways around being charged that amount whenever the situation has arisen.

*All libraries are heated in the winter & cooled in the summer, an expense not to be sneezed at with the current cost of energy resources. Plus, you know, libraries now have electricity for things like computers & lights & stuff. $48.42 is probably a good estimate for the dollar total of all the electricity currently being pumped into the room for the 29 computers in use right now in the room I'm sitting in.

*Bangor Public Library employs around forty full-time employees who work 37.5 hours per week, totaling around 1500 hours worked per week & around 78,000 hours worked per year. Your $48.42 provides perhaps a dollar a day for one day to each of the employees here. Another way to look at this is that $48.42 is less than minimum wage for one employee working 7.5 hours in one day.

*The library is open 60 hours a week from September to May, 48 hours per week June to August, with the library being open about 300 days &, bear with me, over 2900 hours per year. $48.42 equals about 15 cents per day the library is open for each taxpayer. If you a huge math fanatic, try dividing $48.42 into 2900 hours & you'll get 1.6 cents per hour.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have "ball park" figured some of the math here (including, occasionally for comic -- at least, intended on my part -- effect). And, in truth, local tax dollars do not account for all the revenue sources for the library. State tax dollars provide 5-10% of Bangor Public Library's revenue stream. Also, the library is very fortunate to have well-funded endowments & regular financial donations from many folks with generous spirits which almost exclusively fund our book collection.

For my money (ha + ha!), I'd say $48.42 per year is an incredible bargain. I worked part-time in the Albany, New York, public library system prior to coming to Bangor. In Albany, I believe the average tax burden for the library was just over $100 per taxpayer. And, that total has increased since voters agreed last year to fund renovation & new construction projects.

Of course, not every citizen of Bangor uses the library on a regular or irregular basis. Ten years after the construction of the new addition to the building, I occasionally help someone who notes with neither malice nor presumption that he/she "hasn't been in since the new part was added." At least ten years between visits to the library may beg that $48.42 is too much to pay.

But, I'll argue, the point is that we are here when anyone does need us. Last week, the library held a public forum to meet & hear the candidates for city council & the school committee speak. For many, this was the first & best & possibly only chance they had to better inform themselves about the upcoming local election. This very well attended forum may well have been the only time many folks visited us this year, but it highlights that at any given time our citizenry may call upon us to provide a valuable service or opportunity for them.

We are here & the graciousness of taxpayers & donors makes what we do possible. Your contributions, financial or otherwise, are a trust we hope to continue to honor whether you visit the library hundreds of times a year or not once. $48.42 is just a dollar figure; the real value of libraries isn't in what you pay but in what you & others can get from experiences & resources at the library.

Back in April, I visited the aquarium in Boston. I can't remember how much I paid for tickets for my wife, son & I. But I do remember how cool my son thought the penguins were & how scary he thought the octopus was. Okay, I'll be honest, it was me that found the octopus a little creepy.

My point is, that while, of course, there is certainly a dollar & cents reality to the library's operation, any true determination of a library's value can only exist in the minds of those who visit us. I would like to hope that more often than not that what we provide at Bangor Public Library is invaluable.

Let me know what you think.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Political & Social Cartoons

A few years back, I discovered a book called Attitude: The New Subversive Political Cartoonists, edited by Ted Rall. Rall is himself a rather noted political & social cartoonist, whose cartoons regularly appear in over 150 U.S. newspapers. He also is the author or editor of about a dozen books available on the URSUS & MaineCat catalogs, including two updated editions of Attitude.

Attitude features works by cartoon artists not commonly found in the majority of American newspapers. These cartoons are found predominantly in the alternative weeklies of the U.S.'s largest cities. The reason these artists are not regularly featured in most newspapers is that their perspectives typically go well beyond the Peanuts, Cathy, Family Circus, & Ziggy brand of drawing & social commentary. With all respect to the comics featured in most local papers, the typical Family Circus or Ziggy strip seems like it could have been (or was!) written back in 1971, with only an occasional reference to modern culture like American Idol or George Bush to let you know they weren't written in 1971.

Admittedly, the world views of the artists featured in Attitude & its follow-ups are left-leaning on the political & social-consciousness spectrum. Without blatantly giving away or advocating my own political beliefs, let's just say that I don't always agree or disagree with everything I hear on the O'Reilly Factor or on The Daily Show.

Because we live in a seemingly strongly politically & culturally divided country, I think that often fear of offending keeps many people from saying anything (other than discussing American Idol or other trivialities, though we all know Simon Cowell is more Republican than Paula Abdul; note: this is an unsubstantiated generalization -- & probably a pretty bad & way too complicated "joke"). Well, I say, say something at least. Even disagreement with someone is progress -- silence stagnates & insulates democracy.

With that in mind, I'd like to recommend a few links to the online works of a few of the cartoonists featured in Attitude & Attitude 2. [I have not looked at Attitude 3 yet because Bangor Public Library's copy has been checked out since it came in new].

I do advise, though, that some of these may feature words, opinions, or images you may find objectionable. I offer the same warning if you plan to watch an episode of Two & a Half Men, Law & Order, Hannity & Colmes, &/or The Colbert Report. Or, if you read an editorial from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Bangor Daily News. Or, if you give a look to any of the dozen or so "how the Bush Administration got it right" or "how the Bush Administration got it wrong" books available for checkout at your local library.

Ted Rall: http://www.rall.com/index.html

Andy Singer: http://www.andysinger.com/

Tom Tomorrow: http://www.thismodernworld.com/

Jen Sorensen: http://www.slowpokecomics.com

Ruben Bolling: http://gocomics.typepad.com/tomthedancingbugblog/. Here's a link to a typical Bolling perspective, this one about public libraries: http://archive.salon.com/comics/boll/2000/08/24/boll/index.html.

Keith Knight: http://www.kchronicles.com/

Mikhaela B. Reid: http://www.mikhaela.net/. Reid provides a quote in Attitude 2 which explains the clarity & directness political & social cartoons can have. She says, "As much as I love to read long editorials & articles ... they really never had the same effect on me [as cartoons] ... I appreciated the articles & editorials on an intellectual level ... but they didn't make me care on the same level [as with political or social cartoons]." I agree. Very often, for me, a one panel comic provides more depth to a perspective than a thousand word George Will or David Brooks editorial.

The above are just seven of the 42 artists profiled in the first two books. Contact me if you'd like to know who the others in these books are or if you'd like links to their web sites. And, once again, each of these books are available for checkout either the URSUS or MaineCat.

Because ultimately what I'm getting at here is that a picture can be worth a thousand words, it might seem odd that I haven't included any of the comics of any of the Attitude artists. I have not included any so as to avoid any potential copyright infringement & just to be fair to artist's whose work I respect.

The cartoon below is by an unpublished artist, my son. He made this on Microsoft Paint when he was four years old. To date, he hasn't published this, so I suppose I'm pretty safe in sharing it with you. I'm not sure what his political or social stance here is. Maybe it's a commentary on multiculturalism, about how people of all colors should just accept our differences & stand together through dark times. But, I may be reading more into than need be. I still think it's pretty neat though. Better than I could do.


Bangor Public Library

Bangor Public Library
Bangor Public Library,
145 Harlow Street,
Bangor ME 04401