Who Pays for Your Library, Anyway?

The Library's exterior, with colorful late fall foliage, illustrates the beauty of the Bozeman Public Library.

Libraries are not just much-loved institutions—they are well used. 43% of all Montanans have their own Library card, for instance. And they use libraries not just for access to books, but for movies, newspapers, music, learning apps, the internet, and more. 

But when it comes to giving, most people don’t think of donating to their Library. After all, aren’t libraries funded by their taxes?

Well, yes, taxes do fund basic Library functions. Staff salaries, books and other library materials, office supplies, and utilities are paid for mostly by city and county taxes. State taxes and special revenues cover about a third of those costs. Federal grants cover an even smaller portion, often for small renovations or one-time improvements. The amount of funding the Library receives from government fluctuates significantly from year to year depending on the amount of money in city and state coffers and the passage of regular motions to continue funding.

But those taxes don’t fund anything beyond basic services. Virtually every program at your Library, from the extraordinary array of children’s activities to adult wellness classes to the wi-fi hotspot and computer laptop lending program, is funded by the generosity of our individual donors, business sponsors, and foundations.

Even the Bookmobile, which brings materials to children, seniors, and anyone who for any reason can’t get to their Library, was bought and equipped exclusively through donations. Its maintenance is paid for by a donor-supplied operations fund.

All of this goes to show the public library, despite being such a ubiquitous institution, is a surprisingly local venture. And as such, a library is a particularly clear reflection of the values of the community it serves.

“Your library is your portrait,“ proclaimed Holbrook Jackson, a British journalist and champion of books. What a compliment that statement is to our city, considering our beautiful library, staffed with dedicated librarians and brimming with materials that reflect the diversity of thought in our community.

The digital age isn’t making libraries any less important. Instead, their role is changing, from merely being warehouses of ideas to being community hubs where those ideas are nurtured and shared. That’s why programming is so important—like One Book One Bozeman, our community reads program, and Books and Babies, the long-running weekly storytime that provides critical connection for new parents. The wide range of programs place the Library at the center of a community that, as it grows, is kinder, more knowledgeable, and more cohesive.

Possibly no greater example of this community center role is the number of residents who bring visiting friends and family to the Library to show it off as part of tour of their city. It speaks volumes about what a point of pride the Library is for locals.

So, who pays for the Library? You and your neighbors do. Your taxes make it a good library. Your donations make it a great library. And the active decisions of supporters like you to regularly contribute are what keep the Library the pride of Bozeman.