By Patti Samar
When Denise Brooks was a little girl, she enrolled in the St. Clair County Library summer reading program, intent on reading enough books throughout the summer to earn a ribbon.
That early motivation to read helped develop Brooks’ love of reading that extends to this day.
“Reading is such a cornerstone of everything we do,” she said.
The importance of reading and the importance of maintaining an active, vibrant and up-to-date library system is a critical component of life in the Blue Water Area and that is the reason why Brooks, of Fort Gratiot, is serving as the chair of the “Yes Library 2022 Committee,” a group of 12 citizens who are helping promote the library millage that is on the August 2 election ballot.
Since 2006, the library system – which has 11 branches across St. Clair County — has received .7 mills of property taxes, and it is asking for an increase to 1.2 mills for 10 years.
According to Allison Arnold, director of the St. Clair County Library System, the increase will equate to approximately $100 per year for the owner of a home valued at $100,000.
The millage represents almost 80 percent of the library’s operating budget. If the millage does not pass, the entire library system will close down.
“We’ve gone 15 years with no real increase in the monies we receive in operations,” said Arnold. “We’ve maintained for 15 years. This replacement millage will do a lot of things for the community.”
Arnold noted that, for example, the cost of books and e-books has increased over the past time, but the budget for purchasing materials has stayed the same. “We have a consistent book budget that has not changed over the past eight years.
“The costs of the books are increasing and so our buying power is decreasing,” she said.
She also noted that while some people might think that the advent of e-books might bring about a decrease in costs, the opposite is the case.
“An e-book on Amazon might cost you $8, but the library would be paying $30 to $40 for that book,” she said, as the publishing companies place limits on the number of times an e-book can be checked out.
She noted that the increase in millage funding would not go toward any building projects.
In addition to enabling the library system to keep up with budgetary needs regarding their collection of books and media – CDs, movies, comics and other materials can also be checked out of the library for free – the increased millage will enable the library to tackle the issue of literacy in our community.
According to David Whipple, chair of the library board of trustees, the illiteracy rate in the state of Michigan is 18 percent.
“I view the literacy issue as multi-faceted,” said Whipple. “It’s an economic development issues. Employers need people who can read warning signs and employee manuals. If you can’t read, it’s hard to compete in the work force.”
Said Brooks: “That opportunity to literally change lives by addressing literacy is huge. What I worry about is the amount of talent we never get to harness because people can’t read and they can’t reach their potential and, to me, that’s really sad.”
But passing the millage and maintaining and growing a healthy community library is so much more to the Blue Water Area, according to Arnold, Brooks and Whipple. A health library equates to a healthy community.
Said Whipple: “I don’t know any community that isn’t successful that doesn’t have a successful library.”
Brooks agreed, stating: “To me, the library has a critical role in our community,” said Brooks. “For one, it’s open to all.”
Whipple reinforced that statement: “A library means different things to different people,” he said. “For some, it’s a community center, for some, it’s a place to use a computer, for others, it’s a place to bring their children.”
Arnold agreed and said the world of information available to the community through its library cannot be underestimated.
“A community that has a library is attractive because they value information and they value any person that comes in the door and they value their citizens,” she said. “For a community to recognize that a library helps you grow yourself…you grow yourself and you learn your own story at the library. People can learn about themselves and learn about others, and they can learn to have empathy.
“The library is different for every person. Some people find safety in the library. Some people find anonymity in the library. It is a place of gathering. You are able to come together and have discourse. There aren’t many places in a community where you can come in and be yourself without judgement. Libraries are one of the last bastions of true democracy.”
Arnold noted that many people seriously consider the state of a community library prior to making a move.
“If I was looking at a community to move to, I would not move to a community that didn’t have a library. For a community like St. Clair County that is looking to grow and attract industry, you’re not going to attract that if you don’t have great library services.”
Whipple emphasized what a good value citizens receive from the library millage. “We squeeze all of the value we can out of every dollar we can,” he said. “We’re there to serve the citizens of St. Clair County.”
TO VOTE ON AUGUST 2, 2022:
Last day to register to vote in any manner other than in-person with local clerk for the August primary: July 18, 2022.
Voters may register in-person with local clerk with proof of residency for the August primary:
July 19 through 8 p.m. August 2, 2022.
Applications for Absentee Ballots are available from any city or township clerk
and at all Council on Aging Senior Centers.