Although direct city appropriations accounted for the preponderance of Library revenues throughout
most of its history, other sources of funding have also been important to the institution over the
years. NOPL has received many grants from the federal and state governments and from private
foundations. Fines for overdue materials always add a few thousands of dollars each year and the
Library still collects rent payments for use of its property at the corner of Bourbon and Iberville
Streets--the original Abijah Fisk legacy. But these additional revenue sources were of little help
when the city's appropriation to the Library fell from $3.8 in 1983 to $2.9 in 1986.
Ten years ago this November, the citizens of New Orleans voted in favor of a
dedicated millage to support the operations of their public library. The four mills
approved in 1986 had the immediate effect of increasing NOPL's operating budget
from $2.9 million to $6 million, but this was still much less than what the Library
Board had requested for basic library services. The funding of NOPL's operating
budget has not increased in ten years and in "real" dollars has decreased dramatically
over the decade.
As NOPL closes out the 20th century and moves into the new millennium, one long
standing fiscal truth remains before us. New Orleans Public Library's annual per-capita
expenditures are among the lowest of any major city library in the United
States--$11.13 as compared to $27.33 for Atlanta and $35.48 for Denver. We could
do so much more if we were closer to the $20.65 currently seen by the Louisiana
Library Association as an "adequate" per capita level of funding for public library
services. Even the $14.62 per capita spent by Jefferson Parish or the $25.07
expended in Baton Rouge would make a tremendous difference in the service that
NOPL is able to provide to New Orleanians in the 21st century.
Ten years ago this November, the citizens of New Orleans voted in favor of a dedicated millage to support the operations of their public library. The four mills approved in 1986 had the immediate effect of increasing NOPL's operating budget from $2.9 million to $6 million, but this was still much less than what the Library Board had requested for basic library services. The funding of NOPL's operating budget has not increased in ten years and in "real" dollars has decreased dramatically over the decade.
As NOPL closes out the 20th century and moves into the new millennium, one long standing fiscal truth remains before us. New Orleans Public Library's annual per-capita expenditures are among the lowest of any major city library in the United States--$11.13 as compared to $27.33 for Atlanta and $35.48 for Denver. We could do so much more if we were closer to the $20.65 currently seen by the Louisiana Library Association as an "adequate" per capita level of funding for public library services. Even the $14.62 per capita spent by Jefferson Parish or the $25.07 expended in Baton Rouge would make a tremendous difference in the service that NOPL is able to provide to New Orleanians in the 21st century.
Personnel expenses have always been the greatest expense for the Library. Even the incredibly low salaries (by today's standards, at least) of 1915 amounted to approximately 67% of the total NOPL operating budget.
For the first time ever, the State of Louisiana provided public library systems throughout the state with funds for book purchases. This money resulted in a tripling of NOPL's book budget and made possible the restoration of the three-week checkout period, which earlier in the year had been cut to two weeks to provide greater access to a limited book collection. [Annual Report, 1978, p. 2]
Let it not be said that the New Orleans Public Library has not been diligent in finding every dime in potential revenue!
The New Orleans Public Library Board of Directors established and incorporated the New Orleans Public Library in October 1990. All monies given to the Foundation will compose an endowment, the interest from which will go toward purchasing books and other library materials needed by our patrons and staff. [Annual Report, 1990, p. 7]
Two examples of the perennial complaint that NOPL's budget was inadequate for the demands placed upon the institution.
Bonds amounting to $2,650,000 were overwhelmingly approved in December and will provide funds for the [Main Library] building. The total cost of the project is estimated at approximately $3,100,000. In 1955, the City Council appropriated $100,000 to initiate purchase of additional land adjacent to the Civic Center site, and other funds will be provided from the sale of the present Main Library property at Lee Circle. [Annual Report, 1955]
The Louisiana State Library entered into a contract with the City to provide $85,000 in Library Services Act funds, under Title 1, for the purchase of non-fiction and reference books for the Main Library. [Annual Report, 1964]
NOPL used this bookmark as one of several means to advertise the importance of "yes" votes in the 1955 bond election to fund construction of the new Central Library building. By a three to one margin, New Orleanians approved the expenditure of $2.65 million for the new structure in the Civic Center development.
In 1954, the New Orleans Public Library's per capita support was 674, near the foot of the list for Louisiana, and low in a nation where the standard for minimum support was $1.50. [Annual Report, 1954]
In 1974 NOPL held its first sale of withdrawn, outdated, and unneeded books. That sale, which netted $4500, was organized and operated by Library staff members. After several additional staff-managed sales, subsequent events were sponsored by the Brandeis Women's National Committee and later by the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library. In recent years the Friends book sales have been expanded to include parties, auctions, and literary events.
...although your Library has become noted for what you have recently accomplished in developing its facilities and furthering its objectives, it has been equally noted for the wide gap between its operational income--82 cents per capita in 1957--and the minimum of $2.60 now recommended by the American Library Association.... The unfinished task remains--to provide these [new] buildings with the materials to supply them, the staffs to service them, the funds to operate them. [Annual Report, 1957]
Purpose C in 1976 included a new building for the Robert E. Smith Branch as one of several projects to be funded through the sale of New Orleans municipal bonds.
Boost your budget--
--more tax funds, since the 79 cents per capita of 1956, particularly when compared with the long-time minimum standard of $1.50, cannot be stretched to include the types of collections and services expected in a modern community and demanded by New Orleanians.
--recognition that your city rates low place for library support, nationally and regionally, and that of the 44 parish libraries of Louisiana, you own library ranked 34th.
--consideration of the relationship between the inadequate financial support for the New Orleans Public Library and the unprecedented march of progress of Louisiana's largest city. [Annual Report, 1956]
Capital projects such as the construction of new branches and the renovation of existing facilities have long been funded in whole or in part by proceeds from the sale of New Orleans municipal bonds. The flyers shown here urged public support of bond issues designed in part to replace the Central Library's roof (1981) and to renovate the Gentilly branch (1984).
Unfortunately, the increase of revenues has not kept pace with the growth of the library, and we have more demands made upon us in proportion to our alimony, and are required to accomplish more in proportion to our resources than any other library in this country. A good illustration of the complete inadequacy of our revenues to meet these many demands is furnished us by a comparison with the library of Newark, N.J. This city, with almost exactly the same population as New Orleans, provided for the maintenance of its library in 1910 $111,680, while our revenues were only $36,816.83, or less than one-third the income of the Newark library. [Annual Report, 1910, p. 6]
In the spring of 1986, NOPL faced what was perhaps the worst budget crisis in its then ninety-year history. City Hall officials ordered the transfer of some $700,000 from the Library budget to the general fund to help cover shortfalls in other agencies. The Library Board was forced to order the closure of all NOPL branches in response to this demand. Fortunately for the Library--and, indeed, for the city as a whole--the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region came to the rescue! Led by its chairman, James R. Moffett, the Business Council donated $350,000 to keep the branches open. Just as important, however, was Moffett's and the Business Council's insistence that the Library Board work to find a permanent source of funds for its continued operations. The dedicated 4-mill property tax, passed by the voters later in the year, was strongly supported by the Business Council, which rallied other community groups to the NOPL cause. In 1993, Jim Bob Moffett again lent his name--and also his face--to the Library, this time in support of its effort to improve literacy in the Crescent City.
That we are accomplishing the apparently impossible in conducting a main and four branch libraries in a city of 350,000 people, becomes painfully apparent when we consider that our appropriation from the city last year for maintenance was $35,500, while the city appropriation for the library of Los Angeles, a smaller city than ours, was $132,373.79. A comparison with the libraries of other cities of nearly the same size as ours shows that the amount of our maintenance is from one-third to one-fourth of that provided elsewhere. It is difficult to believe that the development of our library has been achieved under such adverse circumstances and indicates the possibility of attaining a degree of expansion that would be unprecedented if we had the same amount of money that is available for library work in other cities. [Annual Report, 1912, p. 6]
NOPL used this brochure to educate local voters about the need for a dedicated millage to fund future library services.
The average library expenditures of all cities in the United States with a population of two hundred thousand or more is sixty-six and a half cents per capita. The appropriation for the New Orleans Public Library by the city is nineteen and a third cents per capita. [Annual Report, 1925, p. 8]
In a mercantile business every increase in the number of customers should mean an increase of profit, while with us every increase in the number of patrons or every increase in the demands of patrons means an increase of expenses. [Annual Report, 1914-1915, p. 14]
The Library administration issued this report in 1988 to bring the community up to date on the service improvements made possible by passage of the millage two years earlier.
The outstanding fact affecting the New Orleans Public Library is that it receives the lowest appropriation of any library of its class in the United States. It receives now about 12 cents per capita to operate a complete library system for a city of nearly a half million population. The immense handicap under which we labor can be understood readily when we remember that the average appropriation for library purposes in cities of the class of New Orleans is 69 cents. The Council of the American Library Association in 1933 made the statement: "Experience shows that $1.00 per capita is the average minimum annual income upon which reasonably adequate library service can be maintained. Communities desiring full development of library service will find it necessary to provide a support much larger than the minimum." [Annual Report, 1932-1934, p. 10]
The Friends of New Orleans Public Library have been long-time financial supporters of NOPL and its services. Here, Friends President Lucy Ruggles Core is shown in 1988 presenting a $16,000 check to City Librarian Dan Wilson and Library Board Chairman Helen Kohlman.
... as annual report after report has pointed out, the public support for this library is the lowest in the country--in 1942 our operating expenditure was 21 cents per capita, as compared with the median of 68 cents, a high of $2.52, and the American Library Association standard of $1.00. The lines for future growth and development are clear, and it is to be earnestly hoped that what public libraries elsewhere have long ago accomplished we may be able to accomplish here. In 2043, let it not be said that in a time of crisis the New Orleans Public Library received "too little--too late." [Annual Report, 1943, p. 24]
... annual appropriations for the Library have not been increased in any significant degree in the [five year] period. In 1946, the per capita support was 32 cents and in 1950 it was 46 cents--and when both figures are compared with the minimum recommended by the American Library Association--$1.50--it will be apparent that we are operating on the proverbial shoestring....our budget is ridiculously small for the job we are now doing, to say nothing of what we should be doing for a city with the varied opportunities and interests of New Orleans. [A report of five years, 1946-1950]
This millage became the library's operating funds.
The Library Board was aware when it requested the property tax that 4 mills was insufficient for
the long term. Considering the city's economic conditions and other government needs,
supporters agreed that 4 mills was the largest amount that the voters would approve. Even as it
asked for the dedicated tax, the Library Board faced the realization that the future of the library
depended on establishing external sources of funding in addition to the property tax.
--In 1990 the Board moved to establish a continuing fund raising effort to supplement the dedicated tax funds. To solicit and administer such supplemental funds the Board created the New Orleans Public Library Foundation.
--The library established the Office of Strategic Planning and Major Campaigns to coordinate library development functions, to prepare grant proposals, and to develop long-range planning. In December, 1992, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Library Foundation a Challenge Grant of $250,000. Matching local funds on a three-to-one basis will generate a $1,000,000 endowment for the purchase of humanities materials. [New Orleans Public Library Strategic Plan, 1993-1997, p. 7]
For the first time ever, the State of Louisiana provided public library systems throughout the state with funds for book purchases. This money resulted in a tripling of NOPL's book budget and made possible the restoration of the three-week checkout period, which earlier in the year had been cut to two weeks to provide greater access to a limited book collection. [Annual Report, 1978]