The Rapidian

August vote to decide fate of Kent District Libraries

Library users in Kent County will depend on millage results for continued access, says Lance Werner of Kent District Library.
Summer Reading programs

Summer Reading programs /Courtesy of Kent District Library

Get out and vote

All local citizens are encouraged to vote in the upcoming primaries. Find a sample ballot here to see what's on your own district's ballot.


Child development and early literacy

Child development and early literacy /Courtesy of Kent District Library

/Courtesy of Kent District Library

An issue on the ballot affecting the majority of Kent County residents is the Kent District Library millage. KDL depends on millage monies for operations, and this August's ballots will give voters a chance to decide if they want to continue their access to library services and materials. If the millage does not pass, there will be immediate reductions in hours and services.  Libraries cannot operate without public funding. If Kent District Library does not pass a millage in 2014, they cannot continue operating into 2015.

Lance Werner, Director of the Kent District Library, sat down to answer questions about the meaning of the upcoming millage.


Many Michiganders are feeling tax fatigue. Why should they support this millage?

The Kent District Library serves as a multiplier of our taxpayer money by offering an exceptional return on investment for the public. For every tax dollar spent on KDL, customers receive over $15 in services. Those services not only include a family’s ability to check out books, DVDs, download free eBooks, eMagazines, music and streaming video; but also include access to educational and informational programs at KDL’s 18 branch locations. KDL also provides unique services such as the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. KDL offers the most popular summer reading program in the state with nearly 30,000 people participating in 2013. KDL helps people looking for work by offering free job-seeking workshops and instructional computer and technology programs.

Can the people of Kent County afford to pay the additional taxes this millage will require?

The average family in KDL’s service area currently pays $70 annually in property taxes for the library. If passed, KDL’s proposed millage rate will raise that cost by $30 dollars annually. This is still only around $8.41 per month. Voters will decide whether or not to support the library’s proposal based on the value they see in library services.

15 years ago was kind of the heyday for library services, but libraries have had to do more with less, often a lot less, for the last decade or so. Is the additional .4 mills intended to replace state monies that have been cut from KDL's budget?

It is a testament to KDL’s responsible financial stewardship that the library can provide the services it does in light of the significant budgetary losses. Over the last three years, KDL has cut over $1.6 million without laying off staff. Part of the reduction in funding is due to state budget cuts, but the largest portion of it has been due to the dramatic decline in property tax values. KDL’s 2014 budget is the same as it was in 2006.

Kent District Library has the reputation of being rather cutting edge. KDL has, in addition to books and programming, added e-books, e-magazines, downloadable audiobooks, streaming movies and television shows, and the complete reorganization of the library stacks away from Dewey Decimal to a more bookstore model. Innovation tends to cost money, though. How much of this change is driven by public demand?

Thank you! KDL is a leader in leveraging technology to cut costs and improve service. All of the innovations KDL undertakes are with a keen eye toward making service friendly, useful and conveniently accessible to our customers. KDL is requesting a higher millage rate on August 5 in order to continue to meet public demand. Individual customers as well as KDL municipalities, who own and operate branch facilities, have been insisting that KDL offer more convenient hours at more locations, provide better wireless access and increase both traditional and digital library collections.

Are there services that average people get from libraries that they would have difficulty accessing elsewhere? 

I’m not sure what constitutes “average people.” Specialized services KDL offers include the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and KDL is one of the only places in Kent County where childcare providers can earn free continuing education credits by attending the library’s Early Childhood Essentials classes on topics related to child development and early literacy. KDL also offers classes on technology at area senior centers and provides dozen of outreach events at local schools every month.

However, nearly 60% of KDL residents are active cardholders. Everyday 15,000 people either visit a KDL branch or access KDL’s website remotely. Where else can you take a free class on using Microsoft Excel, use a free computer or wireless access to apply for a job, have fun with your 3-year-old while learning how to incorporate pre-literacy skill development into your everyday interactions, borrow a giant stack of mysteries, a few new music CDs, an instructional video on building a deck and discover how to stream free movies on your iPad? These are the types of services used thousands of times a day at KDL and would cost an average person several hundreds of dollars if the library weren’t available.

What are current polls saying - are voters inclined to support or reject the millage?

KDL commissioned a public opinion survey in 2013 that shows that 93% of residents believe KDL is an important part of the community. Library residents find KDL’s community-focused services like workshops for job seekers and reading and educational programs for children to be highly valuable. When specifically asked about millage support, 64% of voters identified that they are likely to vote yes on KDL’s millage proposal.

Library users living in the City of Grand Rapids can't vote on August 5, but will this affect their library access as well? Should they encourage their friends and family members to vote?

Kent District Library serves over 395,000 residents from 27 municipalities in Kent County with the exception of those who live in the cities of Grand Rapids and Cedar Springs, the village of Sparta, and Solon and Sparta townships. Residents of those areas are served by our neighbor libraries, with which KDL has strong and positive relationships. Libraries are a significant contributor to the high quality of life we are privileged to experience here in West Michigan. We appreciate and welcome the support of folks who value library services regardless of where they live.



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