A Library Chump Lives Here: Or How the Louisville Free Public Library Is Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

library-chump-jpeg.jpgThe Louisville Free Public Library had me.

But now they’ve lost me.

A week from now Louisville voters will face a ballot referendum asking them to vote yes or no to allot $40 million a year for library operations via a newly created library tax district.

And if this proposal had been presented honestly to the public, I would have endorsed it wholeheartedly.

But it has not been presented honestly.

And so I am voting ‘no.’

Does the library need more than the paltry $16.5 million operational budget it receives a year from the Metro Louisville government? Absolutely it does.

But after years of mounting lies by my government, I have had it with lies and deceptions and obfuscations and misrepresentations.

I am not looking at this as a Democratic vs. Republican thing, or a liberal vs. a conservative issue.

I consider myself on most points a liberal. And I am not opposed to a new tax for the library. I love the library. I use it a lot. I love what it stands for and represents. I see it as a bastion of knowledge against the ignorant barbrian hordes. I want our library to be better, to be better stocked and able to service the community.

I am just opposed to this particular tax. And particularly opposed to the way in which the propaganda campaign for it has proceeded.

I feel duped. And I don’t like that. Not anymore.

Instead of straight talk, we’ve gotten the kind of sleaze addressed in this lengthy article in the Leo Weekly. Or in this one at the Courier-Journal website.

Rather than honestly tell us how much this is really going to cost and how the “old” library budget line money will be used, we get soothing pablum such as “it’s only a two-tenths of 1 percent” increase in taxes.

That’s a whopping 9 percent occupational tax increase, and it’s on top of the existing occupational tax. As a result, the old $16.5 million library budget line will become a free-money windfall for the city government.

I would support the tax if this existing $16.5 million continued to be for library use. With that $16.5 million deducted from the $40 million the library says it needs, that would leave $23.5 million left to be raised. I would be more willing to support a tax increase of $23.5 million to make up the difference, instead of allowing the city to grab a $16.5 million windfall through deception–which is what will happen if this referendum passes.

In other words, we will be paying what we already pay ($16.5 million, scooped up for something else) in addition to the new $40 million.

Do the math. We were paying $16.5 million. Now, with the city money and the library money combined. We will be paying $56.5 million.

If the library only needs the difference of $23.5 million, as I’ve demonstrated, why aren’t we being offered the option to pay that in new taxes instead?

Because the pigs are at the trough. That’s why.

Oh, I know I sound like such a Republican here. And it pains me to sound so, because I really do detest them. But on this issue–for once–our GOP friends are correct. And for once I have to grudgingly admit that I agree with them.

I want a fair, directly targeted tax, not a windfall deceptively hidden within the convoluted context of a tortuously worded referendum.

And let’s face it, like most families, ours is living paycheck to paycheck, and this amount of money is going to cut into meat and bone. We’re talking food money here. This is no small consideration.

The other thing that has rubbed me wrongly about this campaign is the way children have been exploited in selling it.

As all propagandists know, Hitler kissed children, therefore Hitler must be a nice guy.

The library ain’t Hitler, so why are they choosing Goebbels-like tactics to exploit children in their pro-referendum campaign?

You know all those thousands of “A Library Champion Lives Here” signs you see in yards all over Louisville?

I was certain that those signs meant that that particular property owner was “championing” the upcoming library referendum and supported the library and its efforts.

That confounded me because I was certain there had to be regulations barring the library from spending any of its budget for self-serving political campaigns.

As it happens, there are such restrictions.

And the way the library got around that restriction was this:

Have a summer reading campaign involving thousands of children. Once the kids read the required number of books, “reward” them with a big sign in their yard recognizing that “A Library Champion Lives Here.”

Voila! Two birds with one stone killed. The kid gets “recognition” while the library gains mass billboard face-time with the public, using a cleverly crafted message just generic enough to mean more than one thing–timed just perfectly and “coincidentally” to appear just as the big vote approaches.

Ask anyone on the street if they know squat about the summer reading program, and then ask them if they know about the library tax initiative. Then ask them what they think those signs are about?

See what I mean?

Go to the library website at lfpl.org or into the foyer of any local branch and look at how the yard sign campaign has been pictorialized to further exploit the kids by featuring their guileless, innocent selves standing next to these signs.

Remember, these kids library-champ-kids-cropped.jpgdon’t know what they’re doing. They were told to stand next to a sign to have their pictures taken.

They were told this was an “honor.”

I find it sick. And unlike the library, I’ve cropped off the kids’ faces in this picture so as not to further exploit them.

Next time, if you want to “reward” kids, give them a nice plaque and the gift of reading and knowledge: a $5 certificate to Borders or to the zoo or to IMAX or something. I guarantee they’d like it better. And we wouldn’t have it all shoved in our faces for manipulative purposes.

So masters of slick propaganda at the library, forget the Madison Avenue tactics and get back to work. When the referendum goes down to surprise defeat next week, and you wonder what went wrong, read and think deeply about my message.

Go back to the drawing board, don’t let the city take a dime, and craft an honest tax, honestly presented.

-Evan G

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2 Responses to A Library Chump Lives Here: Or How the Louisville Free Public Library Is Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

  1. Beth L says:

    Dear Evan G.

    Your article saddens me. Yes, the election is done and the results are in, but I still feel the need to address these issues.

    I agree that the signs were sleazy. As a summer reading prize, it would have been brilliant if it went with the summer reading theme and said “a super reader lives here” with the familiar red and blue colors from the reading folder. How simple would that have been? And it wouldn’t have felt so conniving.

    It does seem strange that by voting for the occupational tax, the library would actually be receiving just a 23.5 million increase because the current 16.5 would go to other services in the city’s budget.

    What makes me sad is that your cynicism has caused you to vote against your heart. The library was trying to create a Public Library District. This would have enabled the library to continue to grow and serve the public in so many ways and for limitless years. It would have taken away some of the red tape the library currently groans under as part of metro government. And why would we want to begrudge the city budget an extra 16.5 million dollars? What do you have against the police and firedepartments? You say that the library could use more money. This is so true. So much of our community is just not served by the library. And no matter how you think the campaign was run, we just lost our best chance of a great library system. I am very sad for Louisville and sad that you’ve become a republican. May we all learn to look beyond the garbage that clouds political campaigns and vote for what we really believe in. This was a chance to make a huge positive difference in our community and it’s gone.

  2. gravybread says:

    Beth L,
    Thanks for the POV, Beth. I would take strong exception to your idea that my vote on one issue automatically turns me into a Republican. (In fact, I voted 100 percent Democratic on the other elections in which I cast informed votes.) Your assertion represents to me a sort of black/white, either-or viewpoint that contributes to the polarization of the country and results in people being less nimble in their thought processes when considering all sides. I tend to the left, which you may have gleaned from my past writings, but that does not mean I take a knee-jerk stance based on what any particular bloc of people—on the right or the left—would like me to think. I do consider the overall spectrum of debate; I have a head that can handle that. I think it’s defeatist of the library and its supporters to act as though their chance is over to improve the library system. The library and the mayor made numerous mistakes in this campaign; mistakes that they still don’t seem to have gotten the message about. There are alternative plans out there that have some merit. When people did the math on this, and they did, let’s face it, they realized that the tax was more burdensome than it should have been, in addition to applying only to people who work for a living, and once a $40 million-added annual non-rescindable tax was in place and the library in the next few years had completed its Herculean expansion, people wanted to know where all that money was going to in the future. Those questions weren’t answered, and because of that the majority said ‘no.’ Rightly, I think. The plan should be more specific and more flexible, and shorn of the arrogance that came out plain and clear in a Courier-Journal editorial days before the election that basically said that the old library budget of $16.5 million being siphoned off and used for other services was just a drop in the bucket, so nobody should care about it. That was the lamest non-argument I have ever seen in print. You’re not going to convince the 99 percent of us who are struggling that $16.5 million is a drop in any bucket. That’s elitism, and it was that elitism that killed the referendum, ultimately.
    -EG

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