Discover more from Salem-Keizer Proletariat
Keizer only American city of its kind without public library
A nationally unique failure to provide basic services
Investing in public libraries is just plain good for communities.
The evidence is overwhelming. Little debate is necessary. Public libraries are some of the smartest public dollars you can spend.
So, you might say it violates common sense that Keizer doesn’t have a public library.
And when you consider Keizer is the only city of its size in the entire country without a public library, you might say it also violates the public trust.
That’s a bold claim, though - that Keizer is the only city of its kind without a library. Let’s run through how we determine that.
By combining a few data sets that allow us to group cities together by the most recent estimated population figures and run them through a library database to see which ones have public libraries, we see that Keizer is unique in its failure to provide this basic service to citizens. It’s a tedious process, but not rocket surgery.
Here’s the data. We’ll use the different tabs on this sheet to highlight just how unique (and sad, really) it is that Keizer hasn’t managed to fund a public library over the last 40 years.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat loves public libraries and has use them almost continuously since childhood years. What kind of clown doesn’t like a library? Anyway, to receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Comparing Keizer to other similarly populated cities
We are using population to create a cohort of Keizer-like cities because public libraries are typically built & funded based on how many people they would theoretically need to serve. That theoretical audience is pretty much the population of any given area. Because…y’know, it’s a public library.
When you look at the chunk of cities slightly larger than Keizer, and an identically-sized chunk of cities slightly smaller than Keizer - you get a band of 40 American municipalities ranging from 38,447 to 39,895 with a median population of 39,158. From a population standpoint, it’s basically 40 Keizers (hey! Forty Keizers on Keizer’s 40th birthday!).
Every single one of them has a public library. Keizer is truly the only city of its kind in the United States without a public library.
How does Keizer compare to the rest of Oregon when it comes to public library services?
Keizer is easily the largest city in Oregon without a public library. Not even close.
Of the 70 or so cities in Oregon with more than 10,000 residents, Keizer leads a group of just 9 (or 13%) that don’t have a public library. Of those 9, Keizer is nearly twice the size of the next smallest city.
We’ve collected this data on the “Oregon Cities & Libraries” tab of this spreadsheet.
The next largest areas without a public library are half of Keizer’s size. In fact the average size of cities larger than 10k that have no public library is around 14,500 (or slightly less than 40% of Keizer’s population).
Any way you slice it, Keizer is far too large a city to not offer basic public library services - it’s true when you compare Keizer to the rest of Oregon, and with the rest of the United States.
So…what does it matter? What is Keizer missing out on?
Using the Institute of Museum and Library Services “Library Search & Compare” tool, we filtered by population size to look at the profile of public libraries in Keizer-sized cities. This database allows us to see annual operating revenue & expenditure data; circulation numbers; staffing levels; library usage; and more.
When we look at our Keizer cohort and the public libraries that serve those communities, we see a range of funding levels supporting different service and staffing levels. We also see some consistent patterns across libraries regarding revenue (or funding) sources, with local funding comprising the overwhelming majority of annual revenue.
This data is presented on the third tab of our data sheet, titled, “Keizer-Sized Cities with Libraries.”
Generally speaking, when you look at libraries in comparable cities, you would expect a public library in Keizer to:
Require an average of around $2 million in annual revenue (or funding), with around 90% of that coming from local sources. The range of required revenue was quite wide with this sample, though - anywhere from $500k to more than $6 million.
Create an average of 20 jobs or total staff positions (with a range from 7 to 37 positions), half of them librarians.
Handle on average around 60,000 physical visitors to the library, with a wide range from around 10,000 to nearly 170k.
Have available for physical and digital circulation an average of 180k materials
Host & produce some 390 programs with an average of 6,500 annual attendance.
There’s also the ROI of public libraries for the communities that fund them
There’s no way around it, a public library in Keizer would require public funding from the immediate community. Maybe somewhere in the $2 million annually range, based on what similarly sized areas spend on their public libraries.
And when you go sniffing around the Internet looking for proof that libraries are good investments, you tend to find links pointing back to the same report from Minnesota.
Titled “Minnesota Public Libraries' Return On Investment,” the Minnesota Department of Education set out to see just what type of return the state’s public library system was providing to the people of Minnesota.
It’s a super-interesting report and, if you are looking to dork up on library shit, worth perusing. One of the main takeaways, of course, is the ROI figure that Minnesota established:
That is, and I don’t want to risk getting too technical with you, a fucking sick return on public spending. Anywhere from $2.50 to $4.60 returned in value for every dollar in public funding spent? Try squeezing a number even close to that from any police budget - typically the largest portion of a municipal budget.
With ROI like that, you’d have to be crazy to not support funding a public library. Or just, y’know…not very bright.
It’s not just simple ROI - public libraries play role as key community hubs
The Brookings Institute looked at how public libraries (and the role of librarian) has changed and grown over the years. Much of that is due to libraries role as a “third place” - or those public spaces or hubs in society where folks naturally gather and often create demand for a growing set of ancillary support services.
From Brookings (emphasis added):
Libraries as Key Hubs
In health care and other areas, libraries are combining the access and trust characteristics of a third place with a hub role in the community – using partnerships with other institutions to connect people with services and help. There are plenty of challenges with this role. Community needs and the requests of visitors are increasingly straining or overwhelming library funds; and although many libraries are retraining staff, achieving the appropriate mix of skills is difficult. But as the University of Pennsylvania study found, “public libraries are dynamic, socially responsive institutions, a nexus of diversity, and a lifeline for the most vulnerable among us.” More policymakers and government officials need to recognize this, and incorporate libraries into budgets and plans to build a culture of health and upwardly mobile communities.
And, simply put, public libraries are wildly popular with the communities they serve
There’s an often-referenced Pew Research survey from 2015 that asked people about their feelings on public libraries and how important they are to a healthy community. The results were striking.
Some 90% of Americans ages 16 and older said that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community, with 63% saying it would have a “major” impact. Asked about the personal impact of a public library closing, two-thirds (67%) of Americans said it would affect them and their families, including 29% who said it would have a major impact.
Moreover, the vast majority of Americans ages 16 and older say that public libraries play an important role in their communities:
95% of Americans ages 16 and older agree that the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed;
95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading;
94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community;
81% say that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere.
If the evidence is so overwhelming, why has Keizer been without a public library for 40 years and running?
Two things, really. Lack of political courage. And an older, conservative demographic that doesn’t like investing in public services that don’t directly benefit them.
Keizer has tried a few times to launch public library services, most recently in the summer of 2022. After months of back and forth between the existing leadership of the Keizer Community Library (a nonprofit organization that provides some of services a full public library would), Keizer City Council declined to implement a library tax on each Keizerite’s utility bill. Heck, at a July 5, 2022, City Council meeting, they voted to not even send the idea to the ballot for voters to decide.
Eventually, in mid-July 2022, after hearing from several Keizer citizens who urged the Council to put the Library funding measure on the November 2022 ballot…Keizer City Council relented.
Guess what the same City Council unanimously approved earlier in the summer at their June 6, 2022, meeting? It was an increased tax on city residents to fund….what? Anyone? Bueller?
Police. More of ‘em.
Anyway, the ballot measure to fund a library failed with about 55% of Keizer voting no. Salem Reporter published a quote from Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark in the wake of the vote:
“We got some room to do work,” said Clark, regarding establishing a public library. “We need to bring people up to speed on what a library can look like in 2022,” she said. “We’ve got more work to do.”
In a Facebook post the morning after the election, the mayor wrote: “I sincerely hope that ‘no’ votes meant ‘find a different solution’ and not ‘give up.’” She also asked the community to create that future together. “Keizer is worth investing in ourselves and our community.”
Almost a year later, there’s been no mention of further efforts to create a public library in Keizer from Mayor Clark or any other Keizer official. In fact, in the year since, it’s almost like the notion of a public library in Keizer has been sort of memory-holed.
We found just two mentions* of the public library idea since Clark’s call for action in City Council meeting records. Once at a February 27, 2023, City Council Work Session with a strategic planning consultant, “Public Library” was listed under a section titled, “Public Need.”
And months later, at a July 3 City Council meeting, Keizer Community Library leaders were acknowledged with a “Volunteer of the Quarter” award. One of the awardees mentioned the continued need for a public library.
*To her credit, Keizer Community Library President Barbara Miner diligent updates the City Council at pretty much every City Council meeting.
And…that’s it. So it seems either everyone ignored Mayor Clark’s call after the library funding vote failed. Or maybe it wasn’t that genuine a call to begin with, considering the crickets from City Council ever since.
In the meantime, Keizer residents remain the unlucky winners of living in the only city of its size in America without a core public service that strengthens communities and has a hugely positive ROI.
But, hey - we’ll always have enough cops, right? What’s the public ROI on law enforcement, anyway?
Salem-Keizer Proletariat is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.