CL Library Backs Off on Expansion

An analysis of the Crystal Lake Library by a reader:

CL Library Postpones Bond Issue

The yard sign campaign of the Crystal Lake Library District was evident last summer on Dole Avenue.

The yard sign campaign of the Crystal Lake Library District was evident last summer on Dole Avenue.

The Crystal Lake Library just announced their $30 million bond issue for a new library won’t be on the ballot in April. The library wants to build a new 40,000 square foot building, complete with parking garage, and may want to condemn nearby properties to expand.

Crystal Lake Library

Crystal Lake Library

So, while we wait until next year for their referendum, here are some fun facts to consider about whether the City needs a new library and whether the cost is reasonable.

  1. The library paid a consultant to evaluate 24 locations for a new library before deciding to stay where they are. They apparently never considered not expanding.
  2. The new library will cost $750 a square foot ($30 million divided by 40,000 square feet). Commercial space in Crystal Lake (like Barnes & Noble, which looks an awful lot like a library) costs about $100 to $125 a square foot.
  3. The Crystal Lake Library already costs taxpayers about twice as much as other area libraries:
    • $320 per family versus
    • $144 in Woodstock and
    • $185 in Cary
  4. Paying off the bonds for a new library will cost about $1.7 million a year, which will increase the library’s budget by another 40%.
  5. The City of Crystal Lake is nearly fully developed, meaning there isn’t much room for population to grow. In fact, the Census Bureau says that since 2010, the City’s population has declined by 0.9%.
  6. The number of Library cardholders peaked in 2012 and has dropped for two straight years, by 1.6% in total.
  7. Traffic inside the library (what they call “door count”) peaked in 2011 and has declined 14.1% since then. With e­books and NetFlix and RedBox, people just aren’t using the library as much as they used to.
  8. The number of books and movies the library lends peaked in 2011 and dropped 6.3% last year!
  9. More than a third of the items the library lends isn’t books, it’s DVDs and video games, 340,000 of them . You might ask yourself how the taxpayers benefit by the library lending multiple copies of the teen vampire romance Twilight or the ultra­violent video game Grand Theft Auto.
  10. And speaking of DVDs, it costs the library more than $4.50 to circulate one DVD. You can rent the same DVD from RedBox for $1.50.
  11. 340,000 DVDs times $4.50 equals $1.5 million. 340,000 DVDs times $1.50 equals $500,000. In other words, it costs the taxpayers a million dollars more to have the library lend DVDs than it would if people just went to RedBox.


CL Library Backs Off on Expansion — 21 Comments

  1. I need to say, this is one of the best articles that I have read in some years that results in wasting taxpayers money.

    Cal Skinner demonstrated common sense combined with simple math that will cost the taxpayers million of dollars to have a new library that will lend out mostly DVDs.

    I can only hope that the government heads throughout our county will read Cal Skinner’s simple format and get an idea in how it works.

    common sense + simple math = smart business decisions.

  2. The only people seriously pushing for a new library are the library employees.

    You can’t lay off staff if you just sunk $30M into a new facility.

    In fact, you may have to hire more.

    Right now the bluehairs who work at the library see the writing on the wall.

    Physical books and media are unimportant now to anyone with an internet connection.

    They will continue to be less important in the years to come.

    The librarians can’t save their jobs, but they can make moves like this to put off the inevitable.

  3. Just read Librarians Code of Ethics.

    Nothing in the Code suggests that Librarians’ Duty to,Society includes any consideration of Cost to Society when promoting the Librarians’ stated agenda.

    ( Cost to Society includes actual dollars stripped from households by taxes, and the erosion of Societal trust when homes are seized by condemnation powers of The Librarians).

    This reminds me of religious fanaticism.

    The Code of the Librarian sounds to me like when a religion requires believers to enlighten others in Society, but does not explicitly forbid (economic) violence as a means to that end.

  4. Too many taxing districts pay too much money on consultants.

    The library probably could have done some of that consulting legwork themselves or with volunteers, and just use the consultant for what they can’t figure out themselves.

    Oak Park has a pretty new library (15 years or so?) with a parking garage.

    Netflix subscriptions to watch movies and some recorded TV shows cost from $8 – $12 per month, month by month subscription, no start up costs, cancel any time, so if you don’t like it, you are out $8.

    That gets you whatever movies and recorded TV they have in their library, as many titles and as long as you want, nothing to return to Redbox or library or video store, no over due fines.

    You need internet connectivity.

    There are all sorts of options for connecting to the internet.

    For instance, wireless internet and wireless PS/3 to watch on TV.

    Or wired internet on your Desktop.

    Or wireless internet and wireless tablet or laptop.

    There is definitely a place for libraries.

    But they need to be built and operated at a reasonable price.

    These public sector construction costs are way too many times way too high.

    Fancy schools, fancy park districts, fancy libraries, fancy county buildings, fancy city buildings, all for a cup of coffee a day, or so the pitch typically goes.

    Speaking of schools and libraries, try no TV or any other screen for first 2 years of kids life, for some reason that seems to make a difference.

    Maybe because it’s not interactive, who knows.

    Some kids were going to the library and returning with more DVD’s and videos than books, and then spending more time watching DVD’s and videos than reading books.

  5. Mark, interesting point about NetFlix.

    The library spends over $1.5 million per year lending movies.

    It could buy every family in Crystal Lake a subscription to NetFlix for that much money.

    ($8.99 per month x 12 months x 14,000 families = $1.5 million.

  6. Yes, it seems like a library expansion is kind of a 20th century solution.

    In its broadest sense, a library’s mission is to make information available to all residents.

    Since Gutenburg, this information source has historically been through the printed word in books and periodicals.

    In the 21st century, as we all know, most information is now delivered electronically online.

    So maybe we should think about building a virtual library that can deliver information to all through universal community-wide broadband.

  7. Whackamole, I fundamentally disagree with your statement of a library’s mission.

    It is NOT the job of the library to “make information available to all residents”.

    Of course, that’s what libraries would LIKE their mission to be because it permits them to expand into popular movies and video games, essentially becoming a bloated, taxpayer subsidized competitor for GameStop and NetFlix.

    But we don’t NEED libraries in order to “make information available to all residents”.

    We have movie theaters, newspapers, bookstores and, in modern times of course, the Internet.

    Further, libraries take money from taxpayers.

    And when you take money from taxpayers, you’d better have a darned good reason, and something that people can’t do without government.

    So what is the purpose of a municipal library?

    The Boston Public Library was the first publicly funded municipal library in America.

    It was created by legislation enacted by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts on March 18, 1848.

    The inscription on north side reads:

    The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.

    THAT is the purpose of a library, and when they venture into mere entertainment, they sully that great purpose.

  8. Eric C, I like the way you put it: “common sense + simple math = smart business decisions.”

    For years and years, I’ve seen people on boards do things that defy common sense.

    After Lakewood bought RedTail, and the course immediately required a property tax subsidy, the same board hired the same financial advisor for their next bond deal.

    “How could you hire the same people who told you the golf course couldn’t lose?” I asked one of them.

    “They were the low bidder,” he replied.

    I said, “If you hired someone to paint your living room, and they set your house on fire, would you hire them to paint your dining room?”

    “Of course not!” he said, “What do you think I am, stupid?”

    A lot of dumb decisions by boards could be avoided if they would just say to themselves, “If this were a restaurant, and it was my money, would I spend it on this project?”

    And the library is a prime example.

    Can you imagine a restaurateur saying, “I think I’ll build a new building for $750 a square foot.”

    Can you imagine a restaurateur saying, “My sales are declining and the market’s getting smaller every year.

    The logical thing for me to do is to double the size of my restaurant.” Of course not!

    But board members rarely ask themselves such simple, common sense questions.

    It’s bad enough with cities and villages.

    Specifically because they provide multiple services, they have to balance needs, and the board isn’t filled with zealots.

    But special purpose governmental boards are almost always composed of cheerleaders, people who think whatever their little government is doing is the most important thing in the world.

    Such people are never taxpayer watchdogs.

    How often have I heard them say, “You can NEVER spend too much on [fill in the blank].

    The Crystal Lake Library Board President, Terri Reece, is described in a recent Library newsletter, as “a passionate library advocate” and “a champion for a new Library facility.”

    She is NOT a “passionate taxpayer advocate” or “a champion for the taxpayer”.

  9. Steve, you’re getting into First Amendment territory here.

    Who gets to decide what’s education and what’s “mere entertainment?”

    Is Dickens “mere entertainment?”

  10. Whackamole, I am not getting into First Amendment territory.

    First of all, the First Amendment has to do with freedom of the press, not the government buying media.

    Second, the library makes decisions every day about what to buy and what not to buy.

    They have to because they don’t have unlimited taxpayer money (they wish!).

    If they say, “our goal is serve as the bulwark of democracy by keeping our citizens educated, and buying violent video games doesn’t serve that purpose”, no court in the world would overturn that decision.

  11. There is a big difference between censorship and not buying six copies of the teen vampire romance Twilight because you don’t see that as your function.

  12. Not all the low income folks have internet access.

    For $30 million bonds plus interest you could buy a lot of internet access and devices.

    Although where to you draw the line in the sand on subsidies.

    And as far as devices the schools depending on the district are moving at various speeds to tablets and such with internet access, instead of the kids carrying around a 20lb backpack filled with books.

    I’m sure if Crystal Lake library negotiates with Netflix they would receive a reduced rate.

    But Netflix likely wouldn’t buy every movie the library wanted.

    The internet greatly reduces the need for library space, but libraries won’t go away, and you sure need to think very carefully about any expansion.

    I’m not sure what percentage of households have high speed internet access in Crystal Lake?

    The library has high speed internet access for those that don’t have it at home.

    Some of the libraries check out eReaders too for electronic books so they are adapting a bit.

    Some libraries have an ebook section on their website allowing you to download ebooks from home.

    Plus libraries have public meeting rooms.

    But libraries have their preferences.

    How many public libraries have Bill Zettler’s Illinois Pension Scam?

    I asked my library about it and they wouldn’t get it, said there was low demand.

    Most full time library employees in the Chicagoland area contribute to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).

  13. Facetious argument, Steve.

    Where are these bookstores?

    Since when are movies a place to learn?

    Whackamole makes more sense than you do on this subject.

    Libraries were traditional a great place to learn and study.

    Libraries were for researching things that you didn’t even know existed.

    Not so much anymore.

    Their time may have passed; especially since the dumbing down of ALL libraries that are government run.

    Is there even a copy of “Farenheit 451” in a library?

  14. Mark, you raise some good points. We are all in agreement that public libraries serve a purpose.

    Frankly, I don’t want them to buy NetFlix for everybody, I site that to indicate the level of waste. (BTW, nationwide, two-thirds of households defined as “poor” have cable or satellite TV.)

    Should libraries offer internet access?

    Yes, they should.

    Internet access serves their basic function.

    Does that mean they should pay for Internet access in everyone’s home?

    No, it doesn’t.

    But public meeting rooms are a good example of what they shouldn’t do.

    Should they have rooms for “Storytime”?

    Yes, they should.

    But why is it the library’s job to offer meeting rooms for other groups, for non-library purposes?

    Because they always have?

    Sorry, not a good enough reason.

    Plus, the Crystal Lake library meeting rooms are rarely used.

    The Ames Meeting room is used 35% of the time by the library’s own records.

    The Computer lab, 4%.

    The Storytime room, 17% (down from 29% last year).

    And their conference room?

    That’s 64%, but most of the bookings are for staff meetings.

    BTW, guess how much of the library’s budget goes towards buying new media each year?

    70%? 50%? 30%?

    Try 10% to 12%.

    Most of their budget goes to salaries.

    I can assure you it doesn’t cost Barnes & Noble $4.50 to sell a book.

  15. Well maybe the Crystal Lake library has too many meeting rooms, no clue.

    I guess it’s a matter of opinion.

    I’ve seen many good uses of library meeting rooms.

    Kids meet for projects.

    Adults meet for community reasons.

    Set up a meeting for the Lakewood TIF.

    Set up a meeting about Crystal Lake library bonds.

    School board candidate can set up a meeting at the library to strategize with members of the election team.

    If there was someone watchdogging every taxing districts maybe more people would be meeting about government.

    They are a safe place for people to meet, and low cost for people with not many resources.

    If strangers meet for the first time they may not feel safe going to a strangers house.

    If people don’t have much money meeting at a restaurant or even a coffee shop can be a little pricey.

    I don’t mind paying taxes for library meeting rooms, I suppose like anything they could be over built, and if you adhere to theory that libraries are for books and media only I get that point, difference of opinion.

    Sure you could always find somewhere else to meet.

    Also for virtual school students as an alternative to public schools, library meeting rooms provide a safe place to meet.

    One becomes educated not only by reading but by sharing ideas.

  16. “I’ve seen many good uses of library meeting rooms… Set up a meeting for the Lakewood TIF. Set up a meeting about Crystal Lake library bonds.”

    Mark, you are a stitch!

    Seriously, though, I think the library should have the meeting rooms it needs for library purposes. To the extent they are not is use and the community can take advantage of them, no hurt — no foul.

    But to build rooms specifically for the purpose of non-library activities just isn’t their job.

    Heck, why don’t they build some hotel rooms while they’re at it?

    Think of parks.

    Should parks build buildings for the purpose of hosting and catering weddings and such events?

    Absolutely not.

    On the other hand, should they shoo people out of their parks who want to get married there?

    Of course not.

    Actually, the best example is schools.

    Almost every high school has a big gymnasium and a big theater.

    And then, elsewhere in town, the park district will have a big “rec center” and a community group will run a big theater.

    Isn’t there some way to share those assets so everybody comes out ahead?

    Sure there is, but nobody wants to share.

    They all love having their own stuff.

  17. The most egregious use I’ve seen of public rooms is Taxing District Board Rooms.

    Usually Boards meet twice a month.

    Committees meet more often.

    There is room for improvement in shared space.

    Shouldn’t need more than 1 Taj Mahal Board Room per community.

    I’ve seen villages with a very nice board room and then the school district wants to build a new one in the same town.

    That doesn’t make any sense.

    All board meetings should be published on one consolidated community calendar which the public can scan with links to the Taxing District website.

    All board meetings should be videotaped and archived on Taxing District website.

    The Taxing Districts should have board packets available as one big download to the public with all attachments in one click.

    There’s so much room for improvement.

    Obviously small taxing districts like a cemetery district or small township you can have some exceptions, exercise common sense.

  18. I would think the neighbors around the library would have issues with a parking garage being built there.

    The library better not pull a stunt like 155 did with the bleachers.

  19. I think you guys are getting to hung up on the content and not whether or not a library expansion is necessary.

    We don’t need to have a philosophical discussion.

    I don’t think we need to do a cost benefit analysis for every piece of media the library owns either.

    People support libraries in general, but the more relevant question is what justifies a library expansion.

    That would be lack of space and demand, and unless this place is suffering from overcrowding, I don’t see a point to expand.

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