$11.1 milllion Ludington Library Spending Kindle or Border's Gift Cards -more reading for more people

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bobguzzardi's picture
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Lower Merion is spending $11.1 million on renovation of one in Lower Merion For this kind of money, the Township could buy everyone who uses the library a Kindle. Not only cost effective, for $11 million dollars, the Township, at retail, could buy 30,555 Kindles, for more than half the population of Lower Merion. There are about 23, 699 housing units in Lower Merion , so we could buy a Kindle for every house and apartment in Lower Merion and more people would have more access to more books at less cost and less impact on the environment.

$11.1 million for one library is $189 for each man, woman and child in Lower Merion, some of whom can’t read yet. Do the math, please, 58,740 is the approximate population of Lower Merion. Or each of 23, 868 households is paying $465, the more than the cost of the Kindle. One might think households would know better what their needs and interests are than government but that does not seem to be the consensus.

The reference to buying 30,555 Kindles is, admittedly, advanced facetiously to make a point. More seriously, would not the goal of making reading and books be more efficiently advanced if the Township bought every household a gift card to Borders, one in Wynnewood and one in Bryn Mawr, rather than renovate a building that is used by a relatively few people. The renovation site does not indicate how many individual users use the Ludington Library. Of course, the Ludington project is only one part of this multi, multi, million Library Renovation dollar plan. My goal of having Township Taxpayers buy Borders’ Gift Cards is to encourage and give incentives to Township residents to engage in same good public behavior that Ludington Library renovation is designed to encourage, more people have more access to more books and to give incentives to our fellow citizens to read, to learn and to enjoy. The objectives are the same: the Gift Certificate plan achieves that more people have more access to more books at a more affordable cost to them and to the Township Taxpayer.

It might be useful to find out whether there has been any determination that when the $11.1 million is spent whether anyone reads more. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” What is the purpose of a library other than to encourage more people to read more for learning or enjoyment? Would not the “gift card option” achieve same result. There are some, of course, who would advocate not taxing The Forgotten Taxpayer and permitting him or her to spend, save or invest his or her money as the individual thinks best. Of course, they might not spend as well as the wise and virtuous who govern our Township and that must be taken into consideration.

Perhaps the governing authorities, wise and virtuous, know best what is the public good. We voted for them to make these decisions, how best to spend our money, did we not?

Lower Merion Demographics – Income, Labor Force, Housing Type and Marital Status- linked here.

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carla's picture
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Bob,

Thanks for posting. I wonder why most municipalities have one library and we have several?

If they want to spend basic money for upgrades of existing structures that are reasonable for property upkeep, that is one thing, but building huge additions and adding a cafe but taking away study carrels, and then out of the other sides of their mouths they cry poor over money for librarian salaries, well it's just kooky, isn't it?

It's a timely topic, you aren't the only one who made a kindle crack with regard to this, and again, thank you for opening the conversation.

Any other takers on Taj Mahal libraries?

_____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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Mr. Guzzardi seems to have a poor understanding of the purpose of libraries, the value of investment or the role of neighborhood institutions in building community and environmental sustainability.

Libraries do much more for the community than to promote reading, although they certainly do that. They are arguably the most important place and the most valuable service that the township provides for senior citizens, and the second most important place for young people after our schools. Libraries also fulfill an essential function as gathering places for community events and community organizing. Where did parents meet to organize opposition to redistricting plan 3? The Ardmore library.

As for promoting reading, I really hope Mr. Guzzardi is kidding, because his suggestions are a joke. If we gave every household a Borders gift card equal in value to the cost of the Ludington library renovation, residents might be able to afford a one-time purchase of a few books, DVDs or CDs (about 20 - 30 per household), but then what? They have what they own and nothing more. The Lower Merion Library System provides a nearly limitless supply of materials to read, watch or listen to that have enriched the lives of the citizens of Lower Merion for nearly 100 years, and will continue to do so long after we're gone (provided we ignore the dubiously pennywise but clearly pound-foolish advice of Mr. Guzzardi). If Mr. Guzzardi isn't happy with the selection, he can make suggestions like any other member of the community, or even serve on the library board in order to make sure his opinions are heard. After all, the government is just another word for We the People.

What becomes of our libraries under Mr. Guzzardi's plan? The township owns these buildings. How are residents served when they become increasingly dilapidated and underused? The cost of renovating our libraries is modest when prorated over the timeframe between renovations (10 years or more). While it is important to scrutinize these projects and make sure that costs are reasonable, to suggest that we needn't renovate our libraries at all strikes me as plain silly.

Contrary to Mr. Guzzardi's claim that his plan would somehow reduce environmental impact, neighborhood libraries are models of environmentalism. They maximize the two most important "R"s of the environmental triangle: they REDUCE redundancy of resources and they REUSE the same materials over and over on the scale of tens of thousands of residents. That is environmentalism in action, and far superior to supplying the same device to every household regardless of whether it would be used or discarded, or creating a mechanism that is likely to lead to the purchase of hundreds or thousands of copies of the same books, which are read once, then stored or discarded. And to answer Carla's question, neighborhood libraries are not only wonderful resources for the community, they also offer a more environmentally sustainable way for residents to access resources -- we can walk or bike rather than always being forced to drive. In contrast, both of the Borders outlets in the township sit in the midst of vast, highly pedestrian unfriendly asphalt oceans.

Frankly, SAC seems an odd forum for a plan that amounts to having LM taxpayers subsidize retail chain stores. Borders has already driven too many independent book sellers out of business without the aid of a government subsidy. How will subsidizing a chain store help us preserve and revitalize Ardmore or the rest of the main line? Just as we should support and defend the independent merchants in our business districts, we should support and defend our libraries because they are unique assets that contribute to each of our communities and enrich our quality of life.

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Wynnewoodie,
Please dial it down a notch. You don't have to agree with Bob, but he can express his opinion. It is, after all, a blog.

Which is why when you said this you were wrong:

Frankly, SAC seems an odd forum for a plan that amounts to having LM taxpayers subsidize retail chain stores.

This is a blog. Bob's post is one of many. His position is his own, and it's not a SAC press release, capice?

He was making a point about how the money is being spent. And you know what? I am NOT for these massive library projects in this economy, because I have heard too much pissing and moaning about how are they going to pay the librarians. Perhaps if the projects for Lower Merion Libraries, especially Ludington, were not Taj Mahal in scope, there would be less worry about librarian salaries being met?

Just because I do not think we need Taj Mahal projects for libraries, it doesn't mean I don't support them. I know many people who feel the way I do, including people who are on library boards and committees.

Oh and you had better do some homework on library ownership as you will discover the township does not own all the buildings. Gladwyne is one, and there is one other - can't remember which one.

Again, I know what kind of resources for the community libraries are. I just don't happen to agree with the amount of money being spent in this economic climate. And why does Ludington need a cafe when there are TWO coffee shops like a block away? Cosi and Starbucks? Along with all the places to eat? What does a cafe have to do with books?

____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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bobguzzardi's picture
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I think I used the word "facetious" about the comparison to Kindles and Borders' Gift Cards. These were illustrations to make a point not policy prescriptions.

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politeia's picture
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This is an interesting topic within my family as my mother is on the Lower Merion Library System Board. She is a PhD who strongly supports libraries, and she has an additional motivation as my father who recently passed away was a huge fan of Lower Merion libraries and he served on the Gladwyne Library Board, and my mother wants to carry the torch on for him.

However, I have much more fiscally conservative viewpoints than my mother. She supported the recent library plan. Her argument to me was that a down economy is a great time to save on construction costs as bids are coming in low.

I don't disagree with that. My concern with the library improvements are the same concerns I had with the Dranoff/Lower Merion Township public/private development in Ardmore.

I am all for improving Ardmore and improving our libraries.

However, I have a serious concern when the Lower Merion commissioners make commitments to these enormously expensive capital projects when they really have no idea how much it is going to cost taxpayers.

The first developer who pulled out of the Ardmore project stated he could do the project with no expense to taxpayers.

When he pulled out, the LM commissioners approved Dranoff. Now, I stated in the township meeting when they approved Dranoff, "show me the money".

What the LM commissioners had failed to tell the citizens of Lower Merion that evening was that unlike the previous developer, Dranoff made no commitment that his project would not cost taxpayers money.

Thus, after they basically approved Dranoff, I asked the LM commissioners at that township meeting to "show me the money".

Their response was that the Dranoff development, unlike the previous developer, would cost taxpayers money, but they had no idea how much.

Well, it turns out "how much" was to the tune of over $20 million to Lower Merion taxpayers that LM commissioners not so long ago committed Lower Merion taxpayers to by trying to sneak in Dranoff and approve his project without even indicating it would cost taxpayers anything until I spoke up because citizens just assumed Dranoff was like the previous developer and no taxpayer money would go to a project where Dranoff will make millions.

Why do I bring that up?

I see the same extremely misguided thought process by the LM commissioners with the library renovations.

They are expecting "donations" in a horrific economy to cover about $7 million of an $11 million renovation.

What if they raise only $2 million or $3 million?

I find it to be absolutely fiscally irresponsible by the LM commissioners to make a capital commitment when they truly have no idea if the cost to taxpayers will be $4 million or $8 million.

I am all for renovating the libraries in a reasonable and responsible manner.

I am not for the LM commissioners rolling the dice when it comes to finding out whether Lower Merion taxpayers will have to cough up millions of dollars more than each and every commissioner (they all voted for this) "projects" as a final cost to taxpayers.

Between Dranoff and Ludington, we are still looking at upwards of $20 million of taxpayer money (yes, Dranoff was able to come up with some state tax money in the form of a grant, which came from our pockets and the pockets of those in other communities that may be in need), and in neither case were Lower Merion taxpayers given numbers that can be remotely considered "firm" figures to their overall tax exposure.

And to the first post by Bob (not that I agree with his Borders plan) do we really know how many people use Ludington? I'll have to ask my mother that, but for each and every LM commissioner to commit untold millions of taxpayer money to a renovation where we have no idea how may people will use this library seems irresponsible in regards to what the citizens have a right to know. Will this be a giant coffee house or a library? Is the point of the cafe concept to attract more people to a library that has dwindling users? Well, I don't know and any competent plan to spend untold millions of taxpayer money should tell citizens this.

Won't this cafe harm similar nearby businesses that pay taxes which support this library? Didn't LM commissioner Louis Gould recently go bonkers over a government supported, yet tiny once a week farmers market in a parking lot harming other tax paying businesses? Then why did he vote for this government library that seems like a food court?

Not to be confused - I am all for libraries and the positives they bring to the community. I am just very concerned with the process the LM commissioners went through to spend untold millions (truly untold depending on donations) of dollars of our money and how slip shod the process certainly appears to be.

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Politeia asked: "And to the first post by Bob. . .do we really know how many people use Ludington?"

I cannot give figures but first hand observation over some time indicates to me that it is used a lot by what seems to be a very diverse group of community members.

Ludington is a major resource in many ways for many people, consistent with points made by Wynnewoodie. A visit by Bob G. might help illustrate why Border's gift cards won't satisfy the variety of needs that Ludington meets. Ludington also is among the most user friendly (most resources of various types)--if not the most user friendly--library of those in Lower Merion. Maybe someone who knows all the libraries can comment.

Seems that the building definitely could use some renovation. However, the match between several interior elements of the current plans and the needs of Ludington's diverse group of users merits more consideration in my opinion.

For example, alloting space for a cafe (no matter how minimal), rather than using the space to add more public access computers perhaps will be reconsidered. There often is a wait to use the computers and the time per use is limited if others are waiting. (The same is true at the Bala library.) Floor space for a cafe but no plan to increase the number of public use computers?

Unfortunately, not everyone in the Township has constant access to a personal computer. Stop in at Ludington and the impression is that many don't. I've seen people using computers at Ludington for job searches and to respond to job ads. Carla makes the point--food and drink is minutes away from the library. (Also, for good reason, food isn't allowed in the library. Why change that?)

Also, the plan calls for complete elimination of study carrels. Library staff are of course keenly aware that not everyone can keep his or her attention focused and think effectively in large open areas, sitting at round tables, with much activity in clear sight in every direction (which can include lots of talking out loud).

The library often is used by tutors. Perhaps the new library plan could include a room, glassed in, with several tables for use by tutors, rather than have them talking in the open spaces. (Or maybe the tutors could use private homes or Border's cafes rather than talking out loud in the library?)

And the shelves are not going to be very high for security reasons? Don't shorter shelves mean limiting the readily available collection? How often and what kinds of offenses typically occur between the stacks at Ludington? Can't visibility pretty much be handled by the configuration of stacks?

I continue to hope that, at minimum, some re-planning of the interior spaces will be required before the project goes forward.

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politeia's picture
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Politeia asked: "And to the first post by Bob. . .do we really know how many people use Ludington?"

I cannot give figures but first hand observation over some time indicates to me that it is used a lot by what seems to be a very diverse group of community members.

Thanks for that info and your post, LMT. Like I said, I am all for improving our libraries (within reason). I just wish the commissioners would give us some hard numbers on library users for piece of mind before they spend millions of our dollars. It goes to sunshine and open government - which is something more than a few commissioners don't seem very keen on.

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Whoa. I objected to the suggestion that a vital community resource like the library system should be replaced with an unsustainable system of private ownership like the one suggested by Mr. Guzzardi. Perhaps his post was intended as satire, but if so, it wasn't a very good one, particularly coming from him.

I agree that the libraries should be renovated in a reasonable and responsible manner, and I believe I said so in my post. I am also in favor of an open and transparent process in developing and bidding out the renovation projects. My point was that we must recognize the tremendous value of the library system to our communities and our quality of life in weighing the costs of renovation, and we must also consider these costs over their lifetime. My little node of the library system hasn't been renovated in 20 years. It is poorly compliant with the ADA, and it has a small, cramped meeting space that is wholly inadequate for the community and largely useless for much of the year due to a badly outdated HVAC system. Yet it is a busy and bustling place full of people of all ages at all times of the day or night that my family uses far more than once or twice a year (which is the number of purchases that Mr. Guzzardi's gift card would afford me over the same 20 year span).

I'd like to believe that reasonable people can find some middle ground between the Taj Mahal and evisceration of the library system.

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bobguzzardi's picture
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Don't libraries buy almost all their books, tapes and equipment from "unsustainable system of private ownership". Should government own the means of production of books, periodicals, and other communication media? The First Amendment says "free press" for a reason.

Paying market rate for books is not a subsidy. My point about gift card was for purposes of illustration and not a policy prescription. I don't think redistributing the wealth, that is, spending other people's money by government fiat is a good idea and counterproductive and inefficient at that.

The goal of libraries is to encourage people to read and learn more. How is the best way to do that. The Ludington Renovation does not seem to include buying any more books.

I used the word "facetious" and it seems to me that you are inaccurately restating what I, actually, said. Perhaps, because you cannot refute the point that the government is spending private money of private residents and households and those households and residents may have other priorities or needs and not want to spend money on renovating a Library that they may not want and may never use. Why do they, we, have to be forced to pay for something we are not going to get?

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It seemed to me that eleven million one hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money to spend on one library. I was making a point about the Kindle and Gift Cards at Borders to make a comparison. The eleven million one hundred thousand is a one time expenditure for renovation and expansion without any indication that more people will use the library or even any measurement of how many people use it now. I calculated the cost of a Kindle and Gift Certificate to make a point about the cost per person.

If there were any calculation of the actual users, say a 2000 unique users, the cost comparison becomes dramatic and it becomes cost effective over time.

Further I focused only on the eleven million one hundred thousand in renovation. There is ongoing operation and maintenance and staffing cost which I have not researched.

Using the same method with respect on yearly budget, it may be cost effective over time to buy Kindle or Gift Cards which would address your point that I had recommended a one time event. For the eleven million one hundred thousand at one library alone we could buy Kindles for everyone and for the equivalent of ongoing operation and maintenance buy books.

There is another fundamental point. Would it not be advantageous to encourage private businesses which employ people and pay taxes to provide the services we want and need. Someone has to pay and since libraries do not generate income and generate no economic activity, it, by using tax money, takes money from individuals who may have other needs and preferences. Mandating this use seems to deny individuals of freedom of choice. Why would we want to to that, that is, force them to spend money on something they may not want or need. If we are smart enough to vote, aren't we smart enough to spend our own money. Or, is it your view that a few elected need to decide how we collectively spend money?

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bobguzzardi's picture
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Does anyone know what the annual budget for Ludington Library is?

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Thanks for raising the issue of the Ludington Library expansion. More questions would have served us well when the two massive new High Schools were being planned. As to Luddington, no one has mentioned the "green roof" add on- a vegetative roof over approximately one-half of the building with a cost estimate of $270,000 and a cost recovery estimate of 30-40 years. The green roof passed on a party line vote with those in favor justifying the cost by claiming that it would be a good symbol and a teaching tool for environmental concepts. Should taxpayers be asked to fund symbols of the Board majority's agenda and ideology? The green roof is more symbolic of government excess, big spending and massive increases in property taxes being experienced in Lower Merion.

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Tis not in mortals to command success, but we'll do more, Sempronius; we'll deserve it. - Joseph Addison's Cato

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Well said. If the economy were strong, local taxes were not going up and this green roof actually accomplished something for the environment, I'd probably be for it if it could be shown to have a truly beneficial impact on the environment.

Someone can always make the argument you have to start somewhere and every little bit helps, but right now in this economy it makes no sense, and why can't the township add this green roof down the road when the economy is stronger and everybody is doing green roofs and it actually benefits the environment?

Sounds like the Taj Mahal mentality where they can take kids up on the roof and show them a green roof. Why not just show green technology to kids on videos in a conference room? Why not build a model of a building with a green roof for a couple hundred bucks and keep it in the library?

The model would probably have no less of a positive impact on the environment than the actual green roof. Put the greens around the library. Plant some unique vegetation and educate the kids on horticulture.

As usual, the commissioners push forward with their narrow agendas and without seeking public input. People in my ward never heard from our commissioner about getting involved in this, and I bet it was the same for every ward.

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Interesting points on use of less costly symbols. Not sure who your Commissioner is, but, the common sense Commissioners who voted NO on the green roof boondoggle were Rosenzweig, Gould, Brown and Zelov. Sadly, the big spenders on the Board (the majority Commissioners) all voted for the "symbolic" green roof. The taxpayers will pay the price; the environment will not benefit in any meaningful way; and senior citizens will continue to leave Lower Merion while younger families pass it by when choosing a place to settle. Narrow agendas are usually costly and typically of marginal benefit. Will a green roof to nowhere rally voters to make a change in the Dellheim - Balinsky race? Dellheim voted to spend $270,000 on a symbolic green roof.

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What I mean by people "getting involved in this" is not just the green roof issue, but with what is best for the whole project - and early on.

Commissioners don't desire to involve citizens in these massive projects - unless and until it is already in the works. They prefer to map out their pre-ordained utopia on their own, and then citizens have to work with what the commissioner already came up with and budgeted for.

You ask me, when commissioners are going to spend millions of dollars of our tax money, they should have citizens involved early in the process. The commissioners have proven they are not experts at this the way they have made a mess of so many projects. Yet, they seem to want their power and control regardless.

The opening up of the Ardmore Ad Hoc committee is a good sign, but generally they do one thing to say they did something and everything else otherwise remains the same.

That's why I like the way Nantucket Does It with large capital projects where the selectmen up there outline their plan and citizens vote on it. When the vote failed for a new police station, the selectmen set up a citizens advisory board to find out what the citizens wanted.

The commissioners in Lower Merion don't even need to waste that time. They need to put their egos aside and get citizens involved early in the process, but those massive egos sure don't like to move off their pedestals.

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Agree on need to increase involvement of citizens in Township gov't. Referendum should be utilized on projects as large as Ludington. If it is as popular as some Commissioners seem to believe they should have no worries it would pass. Would caution against generalization that all Commissioners are opposed to citizen involvement, though. Some want public involved and some apparently do not. Also, look at Sunshine. The minority Commissioners want, and attempted, to open all meetings unless specifically exempted by the PA Sunshine Act while the majority Commissioners have kept the budget process secret. Increasingly, issues of transparency, public scruting and public participation are breaking down on majority vs minority lines. Apparently the majority that controls the Board prefers the safety, manoeuverability and convenience of the back room. Afterall, citizen involvement hampers the advancement of ideological agendas. We need to break the stranglehold of the current Board majority by electing more Commissioners committed to public involvement.

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Couldn't agree more, but I also don't overestimate the minority in their support of open government. The majority never wants open government because they are in control and they want to maintain it. However, when the minority gains control, they will often throw you a bone in regards to the issues that got them in the majority, but they then flip into power and control mode. It is politically convenient for the minority to support open government now.

Look at history. The Republican majority when Ettleson and Davis were in charge was a fascist disaster that believed in eminent domain for private gain.

A bunch of Democrats won office for being against eminent domain, but now they are all about closed doors and control.

Just saying be careful what you wish for, but I agree those who support open government now are the ones who are at least bearable. That does not mean I trust them. They are politicians after all. While the minority talks open government, they, like the majority, don’t show much interest in abiding by their oaths of office on other issues.

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Check out this article:

Libraries facing state funding cuts
Published: Wednesday, June 3, 2009
By Sam Strike

Legislators in Harrisburg are negotiating over proposed 2009-10 state budgets that carry in some cases drastic cuts to the state and local public library systems during a time when libraries say the public needs and uses them most.

This is WHY we can't afford Taj Mahal library projects and should only do in this economy what is absolutely necessary. I am not against renovations at libraries (like basic systems, etc), but I think a dose of realism had better set in sooner rather than later. Now is not the time for ginormous additions like planned at Ludington. Now is the time for common sense so the libraries survive Ed Spendell's scissors - he can afford to move the Barnes Art, but as for the rest of it? Who knows.

_____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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Goes back to when I asked the LM commissioners to "show me the money" in regards to the Dranoff project.

At that meeting I also asked them what happens if "the economy tanks"? This was back when the economy was doing great, but those who are on my email distributions know I was all over the economy collapsing well before it happened.

The economy is not rebounding, folks. Just today we got more terrible unemployment figures and since 70% of our economy is consumer consumption, high unemployment sends shock waves through the entire economy.

High unemployment will continue and it will directly affect state and local tax bases in a very negative manner.

We have seen the Dranoff development get put off by the economy, and perhaps it is time to start thinking about a delay in these library renovations?

Besides, a delay would give more time to raise private money in this tough economy.

I'm still for reasonable renovations, but the LM commissioners need to start thinking clearly for once - instead of just shooting from the hip.

=================

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~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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The purpose of libraries is to encourage people to read and learn. It is not clear to me how the $11.1 million dollar renovation achieves this purpose or how the result will be measured.

Will there be more users after the renovation?

Luddington is one of six libraries in Townwhip of abut 58,740 people and and 23, 898 so this Luddington actually serves about one sixth of the population. I did not factor in annual operating expenses which will likely increase over time because of inflation or additional costs of operating larger facility. Interest costs and debt service also need to be accounted for.

Communication is going paperless. The Kindle and its competitors are not mainstream but we see that we are getting more and more news on computers from the Internet. This blog is excellent example. The Radnor information is something I do not see in newspaper. The comments on detailed and give real information. The citizen as reporter.

The test is. "Will more people be reading as a result of this spending?" and the answer is far from clear.

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bobguzzardi said, consistent with the position that he stated when he initiated this thread:

"The purpose of libraries is to encourage people to read and learn. It is not clear to me how the $11.1 million dollar renovation achieves this purpose or how the result will be measured."

On June 1st, I posted a comment that included the observation:

"Ludington is a major resource in many ways for many people, consistent with points made by Wynnewoodie. A visit by Bob G. might help illustrate why Border's gift cards won't satisfy the variety of needs that Ludington meets."

To that I will add, given Bob G's reference again today to Kindle, that Kindle won't cut it any better than a Border's gift card given the diversity of community needs and goals served by our LMT libraries (which is not to suggest that the LMT lead librarians should not be encouraged to somehow innovatively include aspects of Kindle in upgrades to services offered).

Again, I respectfully suggest that public libraries in communities now are multi-purpose in terms of community members' needs, interests and aspirations served, rather than single purpose as suggested by the premise from which Bob G. argues to support his objection to costs of the renovation.

Perhaps Commissioner Brian Gordon, chair of Board of Commissioners Library Committee, or someone else could comment on the mission and mission statement of LMT libraries.

Point of this comment is NOT to challenge the validity of concerns that have been raised about the specific renovation plans (e.g., see my June 1 post). Rather, the point is Bob G's opinion that the renovation cost is exhorbitant and unjustified (see his post today and the first one) emanates from a flawed premise, one that does not acknowledge the multiple community values and purposes, and diversity of individuals, needs, and interests served by our Township's public library system.

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The $11.1 million dollar cost for Ludington is for one of six libraries in Lower Merion requires that many pay for what few will use. Taxpayers are forced to pay for something they don't want, don't need and won't use. What is the 'community value' advance by that policy of forced subsidization?

Imagine, for purposes of illustration, and using my original illustrative calculation of Ludington costing each family $465 that there was a referendum vote on Ludington upgrade: "Would you spend your family’s $465 for Ludington upgrade or for something else?" Would this not be a better way to determine what the community values rather than speculation by a few Township Commissioners and self-interested Library users?

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I show up to Ludington or Bala library about once a week with my kids for reading, browsing, occasional sitting in at story time. I can take the train to Ludington, but not to Bala. If there really is going to be a decent cafe at Ludington I am sure to switch almost exclusively to Ludington. Whether I attend a library more often on the whole I can't say.

When I attend Ludington in the afternoons, without fail I see the ground floor tables filled with teens studying, tutoring, and being tutored. It's wonderful. By no measure would I say that these people and myself might as well all be given a free Kindle and told to go home. I'm glad someone thinks the public library deserves such funding.

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I am sorry, but I find it rather confusing that libraries that have signs posted "no food and drink" want to build a cafe? Cafe space takes away from book and other library related space. This is WHY I am hypercritical of Ludington's Taj Mahal project: I do NOT see a cafe as a necessity, and there are HOW many places to get coffee with in a block to a block and a half away? Cosi? Starbucks? That is where you go for coffee, not the local municipal library.

I am not getting into the Kindle of it all, because I don't want one of those, I like real books.

_____________________________________________________________
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers/Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.–Jean Jacques Rosseau. The Social Contract, 1762

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What if you were forced to buy a Kindle, which you don't want and need? Some people like Kindle, some people like books on disk, some people like Borders or Barnes and Noble and so on. The point is that the renovation takes money from a resident, who may want to spend the money on something else.

Now Ludington is going into competition with Starbucks. Can I bring in my Starbucks when the 'no food and drink' rule is rescinded.

Is this really the "public good"?

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Such is the way with all publicly funded projects. Your money gets spent and you may or may not ever use the thing. At least the local public library is open to anyone in the community who'd like to drop by. The local high school is strictly verboten to certain segments.

If they run a cafe in there I'd expect that they should take down the "no food or drink" signs.

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Exactly. the government forces me to pay for something I won't use.

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Can't you say the same thing about the entire government?

I sympathize with the Taj Mahal argument. How to determine when spending is too over-the-top lavish, and at what threshold should a spending project get put to a voter referendum.

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Yes and that is the argument for Limited Government and Economic Freedom. More Government Less Freedom and the further arguement that Central Planning depresses prosperity.

There is a video of Phil Donohue making all the anti free market arguments we are hearing in MSM. and Milton Friedman, brilliantly, in my opinion, answers. I don't know how to post a WMV on this site but is short and very informative

Choice and competition lead to lower prices for goods and services we need and want. That seems to be in the public interest.

As Milton Friedman said to Phil Donohue , "Is it really true that political self interest nobler than economic self interest? "

The Lower Merion BOC may think we spend our own money unwisely so they may have to intervene on behalf of “the public good” in the decisions of citizens and consumers, sometimes called the Free Market.

Is the Lower Merion BOC the “angels who will organize society” ?
Scare resources must be allocated, the key issues is who does the rationing, a centralized decision-maker or a decentralized system of individual and independent diverse citizen consumers. Centralized decision makers influenced by political pressure inevitably ration badly.

Decentralized systems can potentially avoid the problem of political pressure. The choice in allocating scarce resources is between government coercive rationing or free markets pricing system, containing information, inexact and complex, of the decisions of individual citizen consumers.

Is rational rationing better achieved by command and control elite expertly centralized decision making or consumer citizen driven decentralized market of individuals deciding what his best for themselves and their families.

“I want more rationing with less control where power is dispersed. The "reformers" want more rationing with more control and more power. They scare me.” Russell Roberts at Café Hayek

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Well put and well articulated. I can see the logic in such philosophies, but I find myself reluctant to accept the logical extreme that they seem to recommend: no taxes and no public amenities beyond the basics. Am I reading you wrong? What is your position on libraries existing at all?

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Moving the discussion to the "logical extreme of no public amenities beyond basics" is a complicated and distracting discussion not related to immediate issue which is spending $11.1 million dollar for what appears to me to be an unneeded renovation.

I just visited Ludington and there is no obvious need for this expenditure. The renovation does not include more books, or more computers for Internet. It appears the renovation will turn the Library into an Internet cafe with 14 Internet connected computers for non staff use costing $11.1 million dollars.

The operating budget for all six Lower Merion libraries is $3,956,588, rounding to four million dollars a year. There are fourteen Internet connected computers at Ludington. It seems we could provide more services for less cost.

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I agree that that discussion may be distracting from the specific issue. But I believe I am hearing from you that the root of your complaint with the proposed Ludington expansion is that you have basic disagreements on expenditures for public amenities at all. I understand that you brought up the Kindle and Gift Card stuff just as an illustration, but to me it steers the discussion toward the basic issue of an ownership society vs. a commonwealth society. So spin it around for a sec: What if the initial proposal had been to buy every household in the township a Kindle? I think we might then make a favorable argument in response that this money could be better spent expanding the libraries, which anyone can make use of at any time. The basic philosophical ideas seem to be driving this issue right now on both sides of this thread.

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If it is distracting, then let us not let not let it distract.

Can we focus on the issue? $11.1 million on one building and the number of real world actual unique users has not been disclosed. There does not seem to be much hard evidence that this expenditure is wanted or needed other than by a few.

In fact, all the statistics are presented and in the control of those benefiting from the expenditure. The proponent's self-interest may be in conflict with the self-interest of others who have to pay for something they will not likely ever use but it is not an equal playing field because proponent's self-interest is enforced by government guns or to put it in more practical terms, if you don't pay your taxes, your mortgage goes into default.

There is no reason to think that political self-interest is any more noble than economic self-interest, is there? Milton Friedman to Phil Donohue the video

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BobG visited the Ludington library since starting this blog but his post yesterday indicates that the basic premise of his opening argument remains unchanged:

    No tax payer should be required to contribute taxes for something used by fewer than "X" percent of tax payers. Ditto for revenue from tax payers.

    What is X? --the threshold percentage criterion of the premise?

The question is important because BobG also requests statistics to better inform all on the Ludington renovation issue.

    If X, a key statistic to Bob's position, already was posted no need to even consider reading further. Please just tell me and also how to calculate it for purposes of the Ludington issue.

Consistent with the basic premise of Bob G's argument, yesterday Bob posted:

"There does not seem to be much hard evidence that this expenditure is wanted or needed other than by a few.

In fact, all the statistics are presented and in the control of those benefiting from the expenditure. The proponent's self-interest may be in conflict with the self-interest of others who have to pay for something they will not likely ever use. . .."

A few questions to Bob about X and how to most accurately and fairly calculate it for the Ludington issue:

1. What percent of LMT taxpayers would need to use the Ludington library, annually on average, to reach a criterion that would justify an expenditure--of any amount--for a major renovation in your view? (Major = a renovation that includes more than something small like an interior paint job and that can be expected to cost at least a few million.)

    That is, what's your statistical threshold for percent of tax payer users/tax payer base # to consider an expenditure to renovate the library justified?

    What is "X" in X%?

2. Can the user count include dependents of taxpayers, such as every child of each LMT tax payer who uses the library? What about uses by a LMT tax payer's visiting relatives and other guests, including exchange students, from out of town, etc.? Can each count as a user?

    Or only if a taxpayer him or herself doesn't use the library in a single year but a child of a tax payer uses the library that year can use by one child of the tax payer qualify as a addition to the user count?

    What about use by visiting relatives and other guests of a tax payer under the same condition, i.e., no use by the tax payer him or herself in a particular year?

3. If a married couple pays taxes, and both use the library, can 2 users be added to the numerator while keeping the denominator base # of tax payers for the couple 1?

4. According to the internal logic of your argument, it seems that the number of library-user tax payers/all LMT tax payers in the percentage calculation should be the sum of all annual users of any library in the LMT system. Right?

    That's because each LMT tax payer's dollars devoted to library budgets enable all tax payers (and their dependents, visiting relatives and guests, etc.) to use all the libraries in the system. Agree?

    Alternatively, is your argument based on the premise that the percentage calculations should be based only on Bryn Mawr tax payers, since Ludington is in Bryn Mawr? Thus, the percentage should be # of users of Ludington/total # of residents of Bryn Mawr who pay taxes?

    Or should it be # of Bryn Mawr residents who used Ludington in a year/# of residents of Bryn Mawr who pay taxes?

5. Counting users, rather than # of visits total, can be argued to be overly conservative.

Why? For example, perhaps some tax payers and/or their dependents use Ludington a lot, say > 50 times/yr.

    Some might be frequent users because they need access to a computer to hold their job and for some reason they don't have home access to one, or one that works efficiently for what they have to do. Or because their home feels very loud and chaotic to them and they enjoy going to the library for some personal sanity and reading time.

    Thus, can # of visits be used in the denominator, rather than # of users?

      But we should let point # 5 go, right?, because the fundamental premise of your argument is:

      Tax payer $$ should be used only to fund things that are used by at least X% of the tax payers--regardless of degree of need of particular tax payers or their dependents or guests who use the Ludington library? or who use any library in the LMT system? See # 4?

6. Can percentages be calculated for annual # of users (not user visits), over a sample of several years, say the last 7?

    For example: If you want only user statistics only for Ludington rather than for all libraries in the system, a few more considerations seem relevant:

    The number of annual users at just one library, say Ludington, will be expected to change somewhat annually depending on various economic or other factors that can vary. The electricity might go out in a few Township wards during high school final exam periods, or the roof caves in at another library due to an act of god. Or maybe Ludington had only 7 public computers for most of the last 7 years, and when the # was doubled to 14 the # of tax payer users or their total annual visits increased quite a bit.

7. What minimal percent statisical threshold is needed to justify $11,000,000 renovation in your view?

    That is, assuming that the cafe goes, more computers are added and other changes that you might agree with that other LMT citizens have requested are made to the plans, such as providing at least a few study carrels (e.g., for those who tend to be more fascinated by what's going on around them than by what they might "have to" learn at a particular moment to get a better SAT score)?

8. What articles or references contain US national guidelines on the minimum percentage of citizen tax payers that must annually access a publicly supported resource or service to qualify tax dollars to be devoted to it?

    Have values for X been adopted by other Townships in the US, i.e., percentage of tax paying citizens that minimally must use a service or resource, such as a public parking lot in a commercial district, before tax dollars can be devoted to it?

Admittedly, this is a tedious comment. Imagine thinking and writing it. But it seems needed to understand the crux of BobG's position on this Ludington issue. The basic question also applies, at least in my mind, to the blog that BobG started on the Ardmore parking garage issue. http://www.saveardmorecoalition.org/node/3222

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Stimulating questions. Let me start where I started. How many actual, real world unique users are there for Ludington library?

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I think you really started with questioning all spending on public projects, and suggested that people just spend their own money on themselves and accumulate their own piles of junk. But we're trying not to let that distract us.

I don't like the argument that usage should rise above X% before the public should fund it. If , say, 95% of the people drive on the roads, why is it that much more fair to make the 5% who choose not to use the roads pay for them? Under your logic wouldn't it be more fair to charge people for the roads according to their yearly driven mileage? We don't ever hear proposals like that, but instead the libraries get picked on.

And how about disability access? Under your "X%" logic why don't we make disabled people pay for their own ramps to public buildings, etc?

It seems to me that the role of government spending is to provide services that would not be commercially viable in the marketplace. Attempting to calculate a return or lack thereof on taxpayer investment is fallacious.

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I started questioning $11.1 million on one library, Ludington, and asked the question how many actual, real world unique users are there?

If "return on investment" is fallacious, then is "no limit" unquantifiable measurement of taxpayer funded government spending the policy as long as some members of public benefit? I was trying to focus on one project which seems ill considered to avoid a policy discussion.

I would think you don't want to tell us or don't want to know how many actual users there are because it would be embarrassing to spend so much taxpayer money on so few.

For example, is it justifiable to spend #11.1 million for renovation over and above annual operating expenses if, as an illustration, 36,500 individual Lower Merion resident users, a hundred a day, use Ludington?

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Why do I have to find that out for you? How about you get your own numbers together and make your points. I'm interested in what you have to say. I'm a fan of your other current posts about debt and waste spending. I just don't happen to resonate with the tone of this particular thread, which devalues the existence of public facilities in general and expresses the preference that everyone just keep their money and buy more crap.

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I don't know where to get these numbers. I am not asking you to do it. It seems that the proponents of spending $11.1 million on construction, which does not seem to include more books or Internet access computers,would have the burden of proof. If LMBOC is spending the money, would you not think that LMBOC of making the case for spending money that many, if not an overwhelming majority of Lower Merion residents and taxpayers don't want to spend ( if they did, the government would not have to take coercively).

Nevertheless, I will try to find out this secret number. Maybe it will be discussed at LMBOC secret, off the record, out of the Sunshine retreat being held today.

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LexoTime5's comment keeps the focus on the fundamental point needed to evaluate the perspective that BobG advocates be adopted to judge whether or not expenditure of tax payer revenue for public projects like the Ludington library renovation and Ardmore garage(Drunk is justified.

Also, since BobG's position will not allow concepts like the "public good"* to be considered in such judgments, it's required for internal consistency of the perspective that BobG supports to quantify (put specific #s on) the key premise of the perspective.

Again, the essence of the perspective that Bob advocates is:

    At least X% of tax payers must use a resource or service for which tax payer revenues are proposed to be used to justify allocating such funds for the purpose.

Bob, again: What is X in X%?

    It might help to support the perspective you advocate if you'd provide information like that requested in # 8 of my post yesterday, e.g., national standards and/or guidelines that other Townships have adopted to set the X% criterion threshold, assuming the perspective is followed by some other communities.

Incidentally, with respect to the Ardmore garage issue, should the numerator in the percent calculation of X be the number of LMT tax payers who are likely to use the garages annually, or over the course of say, 3 years?

Also relevant: Bob's response to the calculation questions in my post yesterday about Ludington library use implies that the perspective he's advocating does not allow the # of visits to the proposed Ardmore garages by every tax payer/year to be counted for purposes of calculating X, as is required by the perspective to determine if using tax payer generated funds is justified for the project. (The response I refer to is: "How many actual, real world unique users are there for Ludington library?" It implicitly indicated that Bob's response to question # 5 in my post was that total visits could not be counted as use in the Ludington case, only "unique" users.)

*Bob has argued in this thread that concepts like "public good" and "quasi public good" are "illusory" because they cannot be subjected to quantification.

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Concepts like "greater good" or "public good" are cliche, overly selective and no more than cover for ideologically driven government spending. Considerations like community needs, practicality, affordability and cost vs, benefit analysis should drive spending policy, not wish lists from narrow interest groups. The actions of many local government officials indicate that they think that Lower Merion is immune from economic realities, leading to spending without responsible limits. $11,000,000 to expand one of six libraries is little use to an elderly person forced to sell a home because of high tax rates. Taj Mahal High Schools matter little to young families who pass Lower Merion by for lower tax Townships. And, these amenities come at great cost, costs that ulimately threaten our AAA bond rating and property values. As people flee and by-pass high tax Lower Merion, demand for our real estate lessens and values will drop. Look at high tax communities in New Jersey. Affordability and common sense must be returned to the evaluation of local government spending and taxation. The borrow, spend and tax policy of the Board of Commissioner and School Board is not sustainable or responsible. How much debt is enough? Currently, we all owe $492,775,765 (School Distrcit, Township and County, in that order) and still counting. How high can your taxes go? Real Estate taxes are up alomost 50% since 2002 and still rising. What has all this debt and taxation bought us? There has been no increase in Township services and arguably educational acheivement has declined. New High Schools, Ludington expansion and Ardmore re-development may be worthy and legitimate projects for government consider but affordability and common sense were left out of the analysis of how big and how much to spend.

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Tis not in mortals to command success, but we'll do more, Sempronius; we'll deserve it. - Joseph Addison's Cato

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Here's some clarification regarding Catotheyoungerlmt's comment,
the taking off point of which was concepts like "greater good,"
and "public good" that were mentioned in my 6-22 comment to BobG.

The concept of "public good" was relevant to my comment only because BobG has said that such concepts are not valid in the perspective he advocates to judge the justifiability of using tax payer funds for public projects like renovating the Ludington library.

Public good and like concepts are disallowed in the decision-making guidelines Bob endorses because, he argues, they can't be quantified. Further, he regards them as "illusory" based on the premise that they are unquantifiable.

Therefore, since quantification is a prerequisite for a consideration to qualify as valid in the model Bob wants LMT to adopt to make big decisions like, "For which public use projects is it justified to use tax payer revenue?," it is fully consistent for him to provide a figure for X--the key statistic in a judgment process that he might accept as valid.

The preceding is what I wanted to convey by:

"Also, since BobG's position will not allow concepts like the "public good"* to be considered in such judgments, it's required for internal consistency of the perspective that BobG supports to quantify (put specific #s on) the key premise of the perspective.

. . .the essence of the perspective. . .is:

At least X% of tax payers must use a resource or service for which tax payer revenues are proposed to be used to justify allocating such funds for the purpose.

Bob, again: What is X in X%?"

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That is the point. I don't know and no one else does either. There is no determinate of how many people affected constitute the public good. It is a game without any rules which demonstrates the Free Market Solution. Let those who want and need the product or service pay for it and let the suppliers supply the need if there is economic return for producing goods and services.. This is much different calculation than law enforcement where every life and every person is considered worthy of protection and no life is considered a life not worth protecting.

Three questions about Ludington, still, unanswered 1) How many actual users at Ludington? 2) How many more actual users at Ludington as a result of spending $11.1 3) Will more people read more as a result of spending more? It is the purpose of libraries to encourage and enable people to read more books, is it not? It seems to me the proponents of spending other people's money have the burden of proof.

Your lengthy question is, in my view, if I may say so, a distraction from key issue.

I think, in a way, your question demonstrates how difficult it is to justify this expenditure of taxpayer money, other people's money, to satisfy needs of undetermined number if there are any at all.

In context, a quarter of billion has been spent by school district on new construction and there is no evidence that not even one student will learn more. Likewise, there is no evidence that after spending $11.1 million dollars at Ludington, there will even be one more user or one more person will read one more book.One person? Am I asking a lot. I think that that cannot be demonstrated demonstrates the lack of wisdom in this expenditure.

I have blogged on this site on the debt, deferred consumption, of Lower Merion residents. Has this no relevance?

I would also like to point out that the "free" library is in competition with non government providers of books. And this government competitor provides the product at below cost, very below cost, zero cost to consumer. If a non government competitor did exactly the same thing, provide its product at below cost, it would be called predatory. How is it fair when government competes with non government company which is doing a more than adequate job in providing books?

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http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20090626_Art_Museum_to_raise_admission_prices.html The Philadelphia Art Museum is increasing its admission fees to $16 for adults, $12 ages 13 to 18, $14 for seniors. Perhaps the Commissioners would consider a user fee. Not only would this defer costs to acutal users from those who choose, for their reasons, not to use the "free" library, but it will give a clear count of actual users.

It appears the Commissioners are intent on spending $11.1 Million dollars on Ludington alone, one of six Lower Merion libraries, or close to that, without any evidence that even one more person will use the Ludington not any evidence that this expenditure will result in any more reading. The "public good" is not only unquantifiable, it is unverifiable by any empirical analysis. It, then, seems that thinking that this ill-time expenditure is "magical thinking" with no place in experienced reality. I would not think that is kind of thinking appropriated to governmental decision making.

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LexoTime5's picture
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There are two arguments being advanced on this blog that are almost two entirely different subjects. These are not my arguments or opinions, but I read them as: (1) Is the proposed $11.1 million going to be effective at getting more people to read more, and if not then the expenditure is called wasteful. (2) Does the very existence of public libraries create an unfair competitor to for-profit businesses, and if so the legitimacy of their existence is questioned.

Firstly, these two points argue against each other. Why in point #1 be concerned that not enough people will be served by the library after the new expenditure, while point #2 implies that more customers being drawn away from Borders and Starbucks will represent unfair competition? I don't know how to form my arguments against either point, if the other point is always there to be ducked behind.

The value of the library is not quantifiable simply as how many more people read. Libraries make books available that are not commercially popular enough to be made available by book shops. They keep out-of-print books and works in the public domain. The library provides a place for students to study and do research, and a place to get together that is far more wholesome and productive than most others. Libraries serve all comers, not just those who drive or those who shop or those who already have a lot of resources. Libraries raise the quality of life and the quality of the neighborhoods they serve. Valuing libraries on how much they "increase reading" is like valuing hospitals on how much they "increase pill-taking."

I would also point out that public libraries have a long history in this country, with roots in the founding of the republic itself, and continue to provide for the need of citizens and residents to keep informed and to assemble peaceably in a public space.

I would love to have a conversation about whether a single $11,000,000 expenditure on one library is worthwhile but this thread under the present heading is far too slash-and-burn to have that conversation.

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bobguzzardi's picture
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The issue is the renovation for $11.1 million where there is no evidence that even one more person will use the library aa a result of this expenditure, or that even one person will read more as a result of this expenditure. And the number of actual users who will arguably benefit by this $11.1 million dollar expenditure is unknown and has not been produced by the proponents of the multi million dollar expenditure.

Further, with the addition of a cafe, it appears that the 'library' with 14 Internet connected computers will be an Internet Cafe rather than the traditional library described by LexoTimes5.

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Eplex McDeplex's picture
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has a library expansion like this been done in other towns, anywhere, and if so what has happened as a result? that would help answer the question either way.

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I found some examples through a quick web search:

http://www.librarysupportstaff.com/coffeelibs.html

Including this article, which says that cafes in libraries are well-liked but, as Bob has been telling us all along, there's no supporting data to suggest that cafes in libraries increase library usage.

http://robyn64.tripod.com/Page3.htm

So if increased library attendance is your sole measure of worth for the $11.1 million expense, then score one to Bob.

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bobguzzardi's picture
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Thanks LexoTimes5 for doing this research. Factual analysis is key to spending wisely. and thanks for the validation. I do feel isolated with advancing what I think are rational and factual analysis of spending decisions that spend The Forgotten Taxpayer's money.

Reasonable does not mean I am right and reasonable people disagree but it seems as if there is lockstep Group Think reaction to "it's in the public good" that short circuits factual analysis. Because spending is alleged to be for "the public good" does not meant that it is and "public good" is something about which, it seems to me, that can be argued. One is good for some is not good for others, especially, The Forgotten Taxpayer who is forced to subsidize "the public good"

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bobguzzardi's picture
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I wanted to use Ludington today and it was closed, yet,because 4th of July is a government holiday.

Borders was open and, it seems, Kindles were operating well even on government holiday. Let me compare, not as policy initiative but demonstrating lost "opportunity cost" the nongovernment (one can hardly call it free) market does provide goods and services we need when government does not."

My colleague, Single in the City, reminds me: "People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost." and I might say that about how you spend money. People spend money different ways, not what you would think optimal, but the way he or she think best and it does not mean they spent it the wrong way.

And, frankly, as I have done, spent in wasteful and counterproductive ways. Fortunately,the money was mine,the amounts relatively small and the bad consequences limited. Unlike, centrally planned,one size fits all, government decisions, one person hardly causes enough damage to be noticed. and the decentralized and diverse free market avoids catastrophic Group Think.

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