The case for voting ‘yes’ on the library referendum for the city on Aug. 26


Think community, think Jacksonville, think your local library.

In an increasing digital age, it is more important now than ever to preserve our local cultural icons. This great city is filled with endless tenacity and pride, and there is a need to preserve the cultural staples of all neighborhoods in Jacksonville — libraries.

But their future is uncertain. Since 2005, Jacksonville’s library budget has been cut by 41 percent, hours have been reduced by 22 percent, staff has been reduced by 42 percent, and the materials budget has been cut by nearly half. Neighborhood libraries cannot continue to sustain these cuts without cutting more employees, reducing hours and closing.

The Save Jax Libraries campaign represents the past, present and future of our local libraries. The group is determined to protect Jacksonville’s libraries, and is hoping the entire community will follow its lead.

To get Save Jax Libraries on the ballot, a petition for the straw vote required 26,000 signatures — that amount was greatly exceeded. “All those petitions demonstrated all by itself the support for the libraries,” says Harry Reagan, former president of Friends of Jacksonville Public Libraries and a former Jacksonville City Council member.

What is the call to action for this campaign? Your support!

On the upcoming ballot in the Aug. 26 primary election, there will be a non-binding straw ballot regarding libraries. A “yes” vote will indicate you’d like Jacksonville to give its citizens a chance to vote in a future election on changing the way the city financially supports its libraries.

Why is this necessary? The money being allocated for our local libraries has been decreasing at an alarming rate for nearly a decade. Save Jax Libraries would like to give voters the chance to decide on creating an independent library district that would allocate up to 1 mill from the existing property tax to go toward funding libraries in a sustainable way. It’s important to point out that this would not raise taxes, just stabilize the funding going toward our libraries.

A study conducted by Jacksonville Cultural Council Inc. found that in Florida, other counties, such as Alachua and Orange, have passed similar referendums. “The straw ballot was the conclusion of the strategy that came from the JCCI study on library funding,” Reagan says.

This change to the way libraries are supported would also put decisions in the hands of people who are truly knowledgeable and committed to our library system, rather than subjecting it to the annual budget process. A governing board made up of five elected officials would oversee the independent library district: Jacksonville’s mayor, three members of the City Council and the chair of the Duval County School Board. The board would decide how future library funding is allocated.

“We are lucky to have JCCI as one of the leading think tanks located in Jacksonville,” says Bill Brinton, library advocate, attorney and longtime Jacksonvillian. “With their assistance, a research study group was able to identify the best practices for sustainable library systems in the state of Florida.”

This campaign encourages voters to understand and support our cultural icons and help take action for future generations. Voting “yes” does not mean you’re voting for the re-allocation of money toward libraries, but rather voting for the power to enact change in future elections. It is important to understand how the money is being allocated in its current state so that in the future, voters will have the power to change the way our library funding is managed.

Our local libraries are stakeholders in Jacksonville’s evolving history because they house historic artifacts along with our digital history. Archival information is at your fingertips — information that’s not so easily available online. Libraries are a place for the community to gather, a place to discover together and explore our rich history.

As centers for cultural arts, Jacksonville’s libraries hold many unique pieces of art that tie the community together and showcase the talent of our town. They’re where literacy programs are held, poetry is read and social events happen.

In some parts of town, a common misconception about local libraries is that they compete with brick-and-mortar bookstores. Both are places where books are housed and enjoyed by many; the difference is that a library is a community-centered place from which to borrow books — and so much more.

In short, with just a library card, anyone can gain access to the world.

Some libraries act as after-school programs for families that don’t have computers or other technology readily available. Children flock to their local library to do research for class; they depend on that library being there. What happens when that library’s hours are cut so drastically that the resources aren’t available to students?

Future generations depend on us, the voters, to make decisions about how our city will function years from now. To preserve the educational values we need to thrive, libraries must continue on.

They’re places open to everything from book clubs to voting precincts — libraries not only build communities but also sustain them. In Jacksonville, we have diverse groups made up of individuals craving a stable community outlet and gathering place. With everyone’s help, libraries throughout Duval County will continue to provide a haven for community-building.

That’s precisely why it’s so important to vote in the upcoming election.

Our libraries provide a higher quality of life through continuous educational and multicommunity uses. Libraries serve as free meeting places for all kinds of organizations, and offer computer resources for students and others, as well as literacy programs, storytimes and other educational activities for our children.

Given constant technological advances, with devices making books and short stories increasingly available and easily accessible, we often undervalue the necessity of face-to-face interaction. That’s where our local libraries come in. (Not to mention voting precincts. Many of our local voting precincts are set up in libraries all over the county, especially around the urban core.)

Early voting begins on Aug. 15 at 8 a.m. and ends Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. Primary Election Day is Aug. 26.

Voting “yes” for the libraries straw ballot referendum means you are requesting that our Florida Legislature places the proposal for an independent library district on future ballots for voters to make a final decision to establish the district or not, and voters deserve that choice.

Future generations depend on us to make smart decisions, ones that we cannot make lightly. To preserve the cultural and educational values we need to thrive, libraries must continue.

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