The referenda landscape of 2011 was punctuated by strong voter support to keep library doors open–but little more. Libraries took a cue from three long years of budget cuts, a struggling economy, dwindling consumer confidence, and weary taxpayers and ventured out to voters with markedly restrained requests.
At a cursory glance the numbers for operating referenda seem positive. Fully 88 percent of libraries that asked their communities to fund them were rewarded with a “yes.” In fact, the 2011 passage rate for operating referenda hit a ten-year high.
Looking deeper at the numbers, however, provides sobering context. Voters approved smaller amounts last year than in years 2002 through 2008 and even 2010. In 2011, the average operating referenda was under $900,000. Remove a standout $50 million vote in Los Angeles, and the average drops to under $800,000. Consider that next to the ten-year high, which occurred in 2008, when the average referendum was valued at more than $4 million.