Voters felt the following were the "Best ways to improve the public library" in the 1994 Binder Statewide California Voter Survey:
More Hours
More Books And Materials
Give Them More Money
Hire More Staff
Improve Building/Facility
Computerize/Improve Technology

State-wide, "more library hours" was given as the single most important way to improve the public library by California voters.

This reflects the publicís desire to have library facilities more accessible more often

It should also be noted that the survey was performed during a time when many libraries were having to cut back on library hours due to the recession and budgetary cutbacks.

Books & Library Materials

State-wide California voters felt that the second best way to improve the library was to provide more books and library materials. This result is typical in many library surveys.

More Money

State-wide people felt that giving libraries "more money" was the third most important way in which libraries could be improved.


The Institute for the Future discovered that Californian's consider librarians to be a key public resource

Librarians are Considered a Key Public Library Resource
 Resource usage chart
Technology & Facilities

Technology and library facilities were also important issues to the electorate.


Surveys have shown that the use of public libraries is increasing nationally as well as the number of visits per year.


An Increase in Library Use

A 1978 Gallup survey showed that 51% of the public "Visited the public library in the past year."

The 1990 Harris poll indicated that 66% of the public "Used the services of the public library in the past year."


In the 1994 Binder Statewide California Voter Survey, 77% of the respondents reported having visited the library in the previous 12 months.

In the 1996 Institute for the Future Survey, 81% said they visited the library at least once in the previous year.

An Increase in Degree of Use

As the following figure shows, heavy and moderate use is on the increase as well:

Usage growth charts
Source: Using the Public Library in the Computer Age

Regular & Heavy Library Users

As the following two bar charts show, a high percentage of Californians are regular public library users and heavy users are young, educated and affluent:

Public Library Use by Californians
Heavy Library Users 

Library Use Equals Support at the Polls


The 1994 Statewide Binder Survey found that "The more people use the library, the higher they rate its performance."

Generally, the more people use the library, the more they will support it at the polls. 

Since library use is on the increase, this improves the chances for success of library ballot measures.

Obviously, library users are a prime target group for most library campaigns.

Socioeconomic & Political Correlate
(95% Confidence Level):

The Cain study found that in California the following categories of people tend to support library issues:

Supportive of library measures:
The data did not support the premises that either women, senior citizens or younger populations were more supportive of library measures (at a 95% confidence level)

Age as a Determinant of Library Use

The following figure from the 1996 Institute for the Future survey demonstrates that library use generally decreases with age:

Age of Library Users
Source: Field Research, California State Library Survey, 1995

Since there is a very strong correlation between use of the library and political support at the polls, this also means that older citizens tend not to support library issues as strongly as younger members of the electorate.

This is somewhat of a problem for public libraries since senior citizens tend to vote more consistently than younger citizens and their numbers are increasing in California.

Where there is a high percentage of seniors, the library needs to identify issues which are important to seniors and address them positively, for example:
Volunteer activities like literacy tutoring or a "Grandparents & Books" program
The following poster demonstrates an effective method of targeting senior citizens (as well as families with children) through the use of campaign literature.

"C'mon Granpa, please vote YES. I love libraries."

Provided Courtesy of Cathy Audley, Tulsa City-County Library System, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Reproduced from Winning Library Reftrenda Campaigns, Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1995.


The following figure from the 1996 Institute for the Future survey shows library non-users:

People Who Never Visit the Library

The following figure from the 1990 Louis Harris Poll shows library non-users:

Demographic Groups Who Are Most and
Least Likely to Use Specific Library Service
Which of the following services did you use
Library Service Heaviest Users Heaviest Nonusers
Took out a book Hispanic; black; Jewish 65 and over
Used reference materials West; 18-24; college and post graduate; $50.001 and over;- culturally active 65 and over; less than high school; $7,500 or less
Read newspapers or magazines 18-24; postgraduate; black; liberal; Hispanic; Jewish; $7,500 or less; culturally active 65 and over; high school graduate; $25-35,000
Took out records, tapes or films 30-39; black; Hispanic; liberal; culturally active; belong to voluntary associations; postgraduate 65 and over
Heard a speaker or saw a movie Hispanic; Roman Catholic; culturally active; belong to voluntary associations  
Took a class 18-24; Hispanic 65 and over
Used a computer terminal 18-24; some college rural; 50 and over; high school graduate or less
Education & Income Levels

The following figures from the 1990 Louis Harris Poll show that library use increases with both increased educational and income levels:

Library Use and Education
(Have used library in past year)
Library Use and Income
(Have used library in past year)

The 1990 Louis Harris Poll shows that nationally suburban and urban library use is higher than rural library use:
Have Used Library 
Rest of Metro Area (Suburban)
7.1 % 
Central City (Urban)
Outside Metro Area (Rural)

In California, the Institute for the Future survey demonstrates that library use is highest in large coastal communities:

Public Library Use By Geographic Location
Source: Field Research, California State Library Survey, 1995


In the 1994 Binder Statewide California Voter Survey, 59% of respondents felt that state and local governments spends too little on public libraries.

When told the average annual per capita spending on libraries is $20,
50% felt that the amount should be higher,

20% thought it should remain at $20,

Only 5% felt that the amount should be less than $20

The remainder did not answer the question.
The average amount suggested by respondents was $44 per person per year.

Tax Thresholds

The following figure shows the support level in California for specific dollar amounts per year:

Support for a Local Tax Specifically for Public Library Services
% Supporting 
Cumulative % 
$50 per year
$40 per year
$30 per year
$20 per year
Less than $20 per year
$20 per year is a significant break point given the 2/3's super-majority requirement.


On average, 69% of Californians are willing to pay more than the state-wide average for public library service.

The figure below from the 1996 Institute for the Future survey shows the percentage of people who are willing to pay more for the public libraries based on their income level. 

Willingness to Pay
Source Field Research california state Library survey 1995
Clearly, those making less than $20,000 a year are less likely to be willing to pay more for public library service.

The willingness to pay more increases by small increments until it reaches 80% for those making over $75,000.


It is obvious that there is much to be gained from analyzing recently collected data on library ballot measures both at the state and national level. There is definitely a trend, at least in California, toward placing more library measures on the ballot to allow the electorate to decide on public library funding. If California is a bell weather state as some suggest, this fact may portend a national trend for libraries. Public library ballot measures generally obtain an approval rate of over 60%, but the degree of success is highly dependent upon the percentage of "Yes" votes needed for passage. In those states with only a simple majority vote requirement, the success rate is generally fairly high (nationally the reported success rate for library campaigns is approximately 80%), however, in those states where a super-majority is required for passage, such as in California, the success rate drops off steeply.

In California, city-wide library measures appear to have a considerably better chance of success than county-wide measures. Further, the chance of success for a library issue appears to be closely tied to how well the community has supported other public service measures in the past such as those for schools, police and fire services. Obviously, library campaign planners should be very interested in the overall and individual precinct results for previously held elections involving public service measures. Probably the single most dramatic finding of the Cain study is that the use of professional campaign consultants dramatically improves the chances of success for a library measure, as does the use of more sophisticated campaign tactics such as polling, targeting, telephone and door-to-door canvassing and GOTV techniques. It appears that the library's past performance record is one of the most important criteria for success or failure, and that campaign messages addressing literacy, new technologies and the positive impact of libraries on children are also important to success. The issues of increased taxation, poor timing of the vote, negative economic climate and significant organized opposition are all factors which strongly increase the chance of failure for a library measure.

Public library use is on the increase both nationally and in California. Library use by the electorate is important, since the more people use the library, the more they will support it at the polls. Voters who are better educated, wealthier and Democrats tend to use the library more often and generally tend to support library measures more frequently. A majority of the electorate in California felt that local governments spend too little on public libraries, but a significant break point for the 2/3's super-majority requirement is around $20 per year. Most California voters are willing to spend more for public libraries, but they frequently want safeguards to insure that the increased taxation will go exclusively to the library, and not supplant existing funding. One popular concept with voters is the idea of "set-aside" funding for libraries. This means the approval of either a special tax which will generate a revenue stream that is dedicated to the library, or a specific percentage of general fund revenues dedicated for public library use only which can not be reduced or diverted by elected officials to other purposes.

It is obvious from the data, that there is a lot to learn about public library ballot measures, their successes and failures, and it is even more obvious that without a continued and comprehensive data collection effort along with prudent analysis, many communities will not benefit from improved public library service because they will not be able to avail themselves of the benefits derived from an adequate and stable funding source for their libraries.