I was standing at the front desk of Charleston, West Virginia’s main library on Election Day 2014 when a burly man in worker’s clothes stopped by just to announce to the librarian, “I voted yes on the levy!”
It was an important day for the libraries of Kanawha County (pronounced kuh-NAW in Charleston). Passing the levy would mean almost $3 million a year for the next five years, which amounts to about 40 percent of the libraries’ budget for operations and staff. Losing the levy would mean—well, no one even wanted to contemplate that.
I went to the library to talk with the library director, Alan Engelbert, and Cheryl Crigger Morgan, the president of the library board, about the library, the vote, and the consequences, no matter which way it turned out.
The history of the library funding that took them to the 2014 election day levy is convoluted, but here is the very short version (If you want a fuller version, click here, here, here, and here): In an unusual arrangement, the Board of Education began funding the Kanawha County Public Library system in 1911. In 1957, a new statute rearranged that obligation, and the Board of Education funding was cut from the full 100 percent to 40 percent, with the rest coming from the Kanawha County Commission (40 percent) and the city of Charleston (20 percent). Additional grant and aid money comes from the state and privately raised funds from the Library Foundation, including its Friends of the Library committee, and other sources.