Funding Massachusetts Public Libraries, March 2009(v.12,n.3)


Massachusetts has a long and rich history of public libraries. The Acts of 1890, chapter 347, ‘An Act to Promote the Establishment and Efficiency of Free Public Libraries’, established the Free Public Library Commission of Massachusetts. The following year the Commission published its first report. In this report, a census of public libraries revealed six classes of libraries:

“It appears from the above classification that of the 351 towns and cities in the State, 175 contain free public libraries that are entirely under municipal control; 28 contain libraries the use of which is entirely free and in the management of which the municipality is in some form represented; 22 contain libraries to which the town or city appropriates money but over which it has no control; most of these libraries are free for circulation, but a few are free only for reference; 21 contain free public libraries that are supported entirely by private benefaction and with which the municipality has no official connection; 2 towns have libraries which are somewhat anomalous, inasmuch as they are owned and controlled by the towns but are not free, a small fee being charged the citizens for the use of the books; and 103 towns have no public library, though in a few of this class small association libraries exist.” [p. xi, Free Public Library Commission. First Report. 1891]

Currently there are 370 independent public libraries in 348 of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts. Thirteen municipalities in Massachusetts have multiple independent public libraries, dating from a time when villages dotted the landscape. A library is considered independent if it: a) has its own board of trustees; b) is not considered an auxiliary unit of another library; and c) is appropriated money by the municipality, and that money is administered by said library.

The 370 Massachusetts public libraries receive some level of municipal support. Unlike other states where counties dictate library structure, Massachusetts public libraries are all creatures of municipal government.

Municipal Funding

On average close to 87% of the operating income for a public library in Massachusetts comes from local government. State Aid to Public Libraries supplies about 3% to a library’s operating income. In the most recent national report of public library data, Public Libraries Survey: Fiscal Year 2006 (IMLS-2008 – PLS-02), it was reported that for the 9,208 public libraries in the United States, on average, 81.7% of total operating income comes from local sources.

Taking a different view of support for Massachusetts public libraries is the Municipal Pie Report, annually produced by the Board of Library Commissioners. This report shows data reported to the Department of Revenue by city and town accountants regarding municipal expenditures.

In FY2007, of the $16.5 billion general fund dollars spent by the Commonwealth's municipalities, $208.3 million was spent on public libraries. The pie charts (see below) show the percent of municipal spending from the general fund in various categories. As has been the case since the first report in 1991, education leads municipal spending with 48.66% of the pie in F2007. Public libraries account for 1.26% of the total expenditures.

Thus, a public library in Massachusetts depends on 1.26% of total municipal expenditures to supply 87% of its operating support. When local towns cut library budgets the effect is immediate and can be devastating.

FY2008 Public Library Sources of Income: Gifts $5,934,209 (2%); State Aid $8,336,329 (3%); Trust/Endowment $9,287,510 (4%); Other $12,005,282 (5%); Municipal Appropriation $226,089,735 (86%)
FY2007 Piece of the Municipal Pie: Human Services $264,769,870 (2%); Debt Service $1,217,657,645 (7%); Fixed Costs $1,860,502,009 (11%); Library Services $208,275,225 (1%); Other $668,274,407 (4%); General Government $829,183,091 (5%); Safety $2,408,068,767 (15%); Education $8,012,883,354 (49%); Public Works $996,196,367 (6%)
Page last updated on 05/22/2015