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Wednesday, 08 November 2017 15:56

Libraries are economic engines

Written by 

To the Editor:

As I read this week’s (November 1-7) Smoky Mountain News and the article entitled “Swain library project hits roadblock,” I was interested in the similarities that I saw between the perspective of the county commissioners in Swain County and those exhibited by the Haywood County commissioners when the updating and renovation of the Haywood County Library in Waynesville was being discussed. I may be oversimplifying, but it seems that the commissioners in both counties are showing extreme fiscal conservatism when the subject of libraries is in front of them.

Commissioners, libraries are important! I realize that we live in a time of limited resources to do all that needs doing in each of our counties, but you cannot relegate public libraries to the level of the unimportant without realizing the long-term cost our society. Libraries are centers of literacy. They are gathering place for the citizens of the county, they provide programs to educate, they teach the children, and they help the citizens who are not otherwise connected when job applications need to be submitted on-line.

The University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science, working in conjunction with the South Carolina Association of Public Library Administrators, recently published a study titled “An investment that pays,” in which they they described the investment in libraries as important to “quality of life,” “education,” and as an “economic engine” for the state.

In that study, 92 percent of citizens polled said that libraries “contributed to the overall quality of life;” 76 percdent of respondents said “they used it when searching for a new job;” 38 percent said “it attracts new businesses.”

I realize that these might be viewed by some citizens and the commissioners as platitudes with no real substantive value, but what is a key part of this discussion that even the most frugal can appreciate is that the same report found that the ROI  (return on investment) for dollars that the state spent on libraries was 350 percent.

Said another way, “For every $1 expended, the return is $4.58.  The state of Florida found in 2013 that their ROI for library expenditures was “$10.18 to $1” (“Return on Investment and the Economic Benefits of Public Libraries,” completed by the Hass Center for Business Research and Economic Development, at the University of West Florida).

So, the challenge to the county commissioners of Swain County (and Haywood County) is to get out from behind the dais, go visit your library, and really talk to the citizens that are there using the library and think about their needs with an open mind.

And to the argument that “not everyone in the county uses the library” which is always used to argue against library funding, well not everyone uses the fire department, or the sheriff’s department, or even the school system, but ….

Thanks, Smoky Mountain News for covering this important topic. If we keep talking about library needs, someday soon the purse strings might get loosened to support these important institutions in our counties.

Kent Stewart

Haywood County citizen

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