Findings - Equity of Access to Quality Public Library Services
In the "Quality" section above, the consultants highlighted the fact that some Virginia libraries offer exemplary service while others are struggling to meet basic standards. The listings of libraries offered in the section above are merely a sampling of what the consultants observed and documented at the extremes. Many other libraries could be cited for exemplary services or for significant deficiencies. The point is that there is a wide gulf between a moderate number of high performance libraries and a significant number of struggling libraries. Depending on what criteria are applied, a case can be made for considering 15 – 20 of Virginia’s libraries as being exemplary. By the same token, at least 25, and perhaps as many as 40, of Virginia’s libraries could be considered sub-standard at least in some significant category. Approximately 40 libraries perform moderately well and deliver what might be considered an acceptable level of service.
The salaries and benefits offered to library workers in some areas of the state are poor. In some cases, libraries are overly dependent on part-time staff because of efforts to minimize the amount of the library’s budget that must be devoted to paying for basic benefits such as health insurance and retirement. These realities often make it difficult for these libraries to recruit and retain qualified workers. The situation is likely to get worse as the "graying" of the library profession continues. A few states, most notably Georgia, have instituted "personnel grants" that ensure that every county library has at least one staff member with a master’s degree in library science. While these people are not state employees, the amount of the grant is sufficient to pay an MLS at a level comparable to public educators with similar educational credentials. A program such as this might be considered as part of a supplemental "equity" funding package.
One bright spot in the equity of access issue is "Find It Virginia." The statewide licensing of a package of quality electronic information services offers residents of all parts of the Commonwealth extremely valuable, comparable resources. The importance of this program cannot be overstated.
Some other states have a larger number of libraries that can be considered inadequate; however, in very few states is the gap between the high end and the low end as striking as it is in the Old Dominion State. In large measure, the quality and quantity of public library service that is available to Virginians is dependent on where one lives. Although there are some notable exceptions, residents of northern and eastern Virginia have access to much better public library service than residents of the southern and western portions of the Commonwealth.
It would also appear that the quality and quantity of public library service are somewhat dependent on the relative wealth of the library’s service area. Of the 20 counties and cities with the lowest circulation of library materials per capita, 19 of the jurisdictions had median household incomes below the state median. Only New Kent County had a higher than average income while falling in the bottom group in circulation per capita. In contrast, of the 20 counties and cities with the highest circulation per capita, 13 also exceeded the state median household income. Furthermore, three of the seven jurisdictions with median household incomes below the state average that nevertheless performed well in circulation per capita are part of regional systems that include other jurisdictions with above average household incomes. Ironically, it appears that public library service is often poorest in the areas that would benefit from quality library and information services the most. The maps on the next page illustrate the correlation between household income and library use.
In short, it is clear that high quality library service is available in some areas of the Commonwealth and that a lack of access to high quality public library service is an issue in other areas of the State.
Findings – EQUITY
There is a great disparity between the public library services offered in some areas of Virginia compared to other sections of the State.
Disparities in the quantity and quality of public library services appear to be, at least in part, economically based.
Many of Virginia’s residents who could benefit the most from quality library resources and services do not have access to those services.
Find It Virginia is an important resource in addressing the equity of access issue.
Poor salaries and inadequate benefits make it difficult for some libraries to recruit and retain quality staff.
A few areas of the State have the wherewithal to offer higher quality library services but have not seen fit to do so.