The Library Thing

Of late there has been quite a bit of public discussion and back-and-forth over whether the City of Keller should replace or upgrade the current public library.  Several years before I moved here a proposal for a new library (at a cost of approximately $10 million) was put before the voters and soundly rejected.  The current proposals are to either expand the existing library (at a cost of approximately $7 million) or build a new one in Keller Town Center (at a cost of approximately $8 million).  (A little background can be found in this recent opinion piece.)

There are several things about this whole “debate” that irk me, but let me start with the top one.  The proponents of the new library want the city council to “just do it” and approve issuing bonds to build a new library.  The council is making noises about sending it to the voters for approval.  I had an interesting discussion with one of the supporters who said that she was going to work against the reelection of any council member who voted to call an election on the issue.  I was a bit stunned to hear this.  Her rationale was that the opponents of the library would be able to influence the public campaign too well and the supporters would lose an election.  It seems odd to me to deny the public a voice in something this big.  The other rationale that the supporters use is that the council voted for bonds to fund the new City (Taj ma)Hall and several other large projects without voter input.  It seems to me that instead of decrying sending the library for a vote they should be decrying the fact that the council didn’t send the other issues for a vote.  If anything, I’d be inclined to vote against any council member that decided to spend that kind of money without a vote.

The second thing that bugs me is that I think the supporters of the library are being disingenuous by claiming that a new library in Town Center would help drive new business there.  It turns out that this is related to a serious problem brought about by the city council in previous years when they decided to create the Town Center using a special taxing district.  Unfortunately (for us), their grand scheme of emulating Southlake has failed, leaving the city with the potential for having to make up all those unrealized tax revenues.  Anyhow, I’m not sure how they expected to build an upscale shopping experience around a freakin’ Tom Thumb.  It’s basically a strip shopping center with a nice façade and an integrated overall look, but not much more.  There are some basic things over there that I use, but nothing that couldn’t be found elsewhere.  In fact, I find the place a bit hard to navigate because of the traffic flow patterns (and the insane drivers who tear through there).

Frankly, I just don’t see how a library would drive much new business to the existing stores, other than perhaps slightly increasing traffic for Starbucks or the BankOne.  But even if they are right, it seems dubious to me that it would be enough to help, considering the size of the problem.

The special taxing district needs an $81 million property value increase by 2007 to pay off debt used to build roads and the Town Hall.

That gives us two years to come up with $81 million in property development.  A library just isn’t going to do that.  Further, the amount of crap that a company has to go through to build a new business in Keller will make it difficult to get even a tenth of that amount in new development.

But in the interest of fairness I tried to find some information on expected economic impacts of libraries.  Unfortunately, all I could find were cheerleading articles and studies that were started with the premise that a library had a positive economic impact.  I didn’t find anything that I trusted as being a scientific impartial study of the real impact of a library (it’s interesting that the first study I found claimed that this would actually be impossible, so they just went with surveying the users of libraries).

Here’s what a quick Google search turned up:

Some other links on the issue:

The third point the proponents of the new library keep putting forth is that it won’t increase our taxes.  I haven’t had much time to research this issue, but I’m concerned about this claim, as it seems dubious.  Bonds have to be paid back as debt service out of our taxes.  This means that the city has to budget for this somehow.  It seems dangerous to me to take on more debt at a time when there is a high potential for a tremendous shortfall in revenues in the near term, and while basic city services (fire, police) are not fully funded.

Until someone can show me an unbiased scientific study (i.e. not one of the studies above) showing positive business impacts of a new library, I am going to remain sceptical. 


  1. Jeff Medcalf says:

    I’m not really sure where to put myself in your categorization.  I certainly want a new library: the old one is too small (even after the expansion when city offices were moved to the astoundingly beautiful – and correspondingly expensive – new City Hall) to hold a decent collection, and the library actually has turned away book donations I’ve attempted to make on the grounds that the do not have room for them.  The library has also given away older but still useful books because of space considerations.  Worse, the library’s collection is neither broad enough nor deep enough to serve anything other than an entertainment purpose – their periodicals section is poor, and their non-fiction section is too limited on most topics for either depth or breadth.

    Certainly, some of this may be because of bad choices on the part of the librarians; I haven’t studied the problem in depth.  But some of it is certainly because of the limited space.

    That said, I cannot abide not calling this to a vote – even though the library failed the last time.  Representative government does not mean I always get what I want; it means the mass of the people should generally get what they want, so long as it doesn’t actively harm their fellows (including by taxation they don’t want).

    One thing you might not be aware of, given when you moved here, is that there was an election about 7 years ago or so, in which two basic philosophies were espoused: keep Keller a largely rural community with limited development (commercial areas only along 1709 and 377) and with no new high-density residential; or become Southlake.  The latter won – barely – and have been in power since.  At least they are doing what they ran on; I just disagree with it.

  2. I guess I’d have to classify you as an actual library user.  When I mentioned the “supporters” I was really referring to the organized groups who want the new library in Town Center.

    I’d heard about the wanna-be-Southlake-ers and I’ve seen the results of their actions.  Town Center is a good example of it. 

    The demographic of Keller isn’t like Southlake and attempting to make it so will only leave the city with a bad hangover when it finally learns that it can’t keep up with that particular Jones.

    Anyhow, it’s interesting that in all the furor over the library your comment is the first time I’ve heard that the library’s collection isn’t sufficient due to the lack of room.  All I ever hear from the library supporters are comments like “Everyone agrees that the current library is too small.”  But they don’t give any specifics.  This is the sort of thing that I need to hear if I’m going to make an informed decision.

    I think my main objection is to the way the supporters (or at least the organized supporters) are going about it.  I keep catching a hint that they’re trying to pull something over on me.  I don’t like that sort of double-dealing.

    If they’d just stand up and speak the truth without spinning I might have more respect for the people behind the campaign.  Unfortunately, their bad reputation may poison the issue to the point that the users of the library, such as yourself, won’t be able to get a fair shake at the polls.