Harford libraries seek revenue source Foundation pondered as way to raise funds

January 01, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF

Public libraries are in a bind.

Squeezed by budget cuts but stretched to the limit by residents who demand more services, libraries of all sizes are looking for ways to boost revenue.

One option being considered in Harford County and many other localities: the creation of foundations to solicit tax-deductible donations from the public and large gifts from corporate sponsors.

"We have to do something. There is no way tax dollars can be stretched to cover all the things we do," said Irene M. Padilla, director of Harford County Libraries. In the fast-growing county, the number of items, including books and videotapes, lent in the nine-branch system jumped from 2.4 million in 1992 to nearly 10 million last year, she said.

Meanwhile, Harford's library budget has grown from $4.6 million to $6.2 million. But, after paying increased expenses, including employee benefits and utilities, the libraries have received only $420,000 since 1992 to buy books and other materials, she said.

About half of the nation's library systems have a foundation, and many more are interested in starting one, according to the Chicago-based Urban Library Council.

Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library, for example, has a $16 million endowment, similar to a foundation. The 130-year-old fund-raising arm, one of the nation's oldest, generated about $700,000 last year to pay for materials and programs.

And Baltimore County's library foundation, started 10 years ago, has $30,000 on its books.

But a foundation won't necessarily solve budget problems. Baltimore County library officials expect to lose $1 million or more in budget cuts next year.

As Linda Mielke, director of Carroll County's library system, notes, "Everybody is in the fund-raising business, and there is tremendous competition for those dollars." That's why Carroll's library system and library systems in Anne Arundel and Howard have decided against foundations -- at least for now.

Mrs. Padilla said she believes a foundation could work in Harford because many county residents are willing to pay for more materials, additional electronic databases and even new branches.

Linda Rutherford, who lives near the Aberdeen branch, said she gladly would make donations to the library system. "I'd rather give money in my own back yard than to some charity that's spread all over the country."

Mrs. Rutherford, 47, said she frequently drives her two high-school-age children to the Bel Air library headquarters because the Aberdeen branch doesn't have enough research books.

Too few books and too little money are problems for libraries of all sizes, said Joey Rodger, president of the Urban Library Council.

The foundations, which libraries began turning to in large numbers about 10 years ago, are not without pitfalls.

"You have to be very careful from the beginning that foundations don't give officials another excuse to cut funding," said Susan Goldberg Kent, head librarian for Los Angeles City Public Library. "The absolute goal of a foundation is to raise money in addition to whatever budget there is; it is not to replace the budget."

The Los Angeles library, one of the nation's largest systems with a central library and 66 branches, has raised $8 million since creating a foundation three years ago.

Speaking recently to Harford's Board of Library Trustees, Ms. Kent said her foundation raised money by selling memberships. It rewarded corporate donors by putting their names on everything from brass plaques to homework centers. And it snared actor Kirk Douglas and Disney Channel President John F. Cooke for its board.

The foundation is so successful that the Los Angeles City vTC Council has increased the library system's budget by 10 percent -- while other departments in the city were cut, Ms. Kent said.

George Harrison, a Harford County spokesman, said the library system would not be penalized for raising money through a foundation.

But even if elected officials promise not to cut library budgets, a foundation "gives them a temptation," said Charles W. Robinson, director of Baltimore County's library system.

"It has to be in the back of [elected officials'] minds that they

don't have to work as hard to fund the library because now there is a new source of money," he said.

Four years ago, budget cuts forced Baltimore County libraries to close eight small branches and one large branch, he noted. Fifteen branches remain open.

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