Making Democracy Work

Library Funding

The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island affirms the crucial niche of libraries: they are repositories of knowledge; they enhance learning for all ages; they serve as community centers. In a world linked to the internet, libraries provide essential computer access for many Rhode Islanders.
This issue is a priority of the LWV Providence
   Study Report
   Full Position
The position was adopted by the LWV Providence in June 2016.
The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island adopted this position by concurrence at its 2017 Convention on June 1, 2017.

Background

In the spring of 2014, the Providence League of Women Voters moderated a series of mayoral debates sponsored by the Providence Community Library. Not surprisingly, the Providence Community Library wanted to know where the candidates stood on library funding. Although all the candidates indicated that they thought libraries played a valuable role in Providence, they were vague about increased funding. In fact, one of the candidates, Brett Smiley, said that realistically there was no additional money for libraries given Providence's serious financial woes, but he did make an interesting suggestion: examine the state funding formula to see if more money could be raised in that way.

In June 2014 at its annual meeting, the Providence League of Women Voters decided to accept the challenge of studying the state library funding formula. We interviewed members of the state library network as well as examined whatever statistics and financial records we could find. When our research was finished, we prepared a report that showed that the state's distribution of library money on a per capita basis favored wealthy suburban communities over poorer cities like Providence and Woonsocket. This pattern seemed especially disturbing given that some of these poorer areas had both higher rates of childhood poverty and lower reading scores than the richer towns that benefited from the formula.

Since then, the League has met with aides to the governor, the House Speaker and Senate President, legislative staffers, and senators and representatives to make them aware of our findings. What we have discovered is very few public officials know how the formula works or what its impact is. Although no solution that can pass both chambers has yet been found, the League continues to advocate for a formula that will include population and the taxable wealth of a locality in awarding funds rather than simply matching approximately 25% of whatever a town or city appropriates on its libraries. If you would like to help us find a more equitable solution, we welcome your participation.

Updates

August 2019
After Labor Day the library funding formula committee will again be working with legislators to find a more equitable solution to distributing state aid, and we warmly welcome any Leaguer interested in helping on this issue. If you would like to schedule a meeting with your representative, please contact Maureen Romans at: mromans1031@yahoo.com.

May 2019
Several members of the Providence League met with Senator Maryellen Goodwin, Majority Whip, at the State House. She was deeply interested in the League's statistics showing that the current formula for distributing library funds discriminates against poorer urban communities. At her suggestion, League members talked with two legislative staffers - Kate Bramson, Policy Director, and David Tremblay, Deputy Fiscal Advisor - about the League's concerns. Currently much number crunching is underway as the staff attempts to craft a solution that can win enough votes to pass in both chambers. League members should contact their representatives and senators to build more support for a new formula if they want to assist with this initiative.

February 2019
Joan Retsinas and Maureen Romans met with newly-elected state senator Sam Bell about the Providence League's study of library financing. Senator Bell showed great interest in the subject as he thought libraries were both important and very underfunded community institutions. He also volunteered to begin discussions with other members of the Providence delegation.

Another meeting is scheduled with Maryellen Goodwin later this month.


At the State House, Maureen Romans, Joan Retsinas, Judy Dorian, and Liz Head presented Senate President Dominick Ruggerio with a copy of the League of Women Voters' consensus study on state funding for libraries. October 2017.