The media spin on the 1994 election had it that Americans were expressing an indiscriminate hostility to government. They weren't. They were rejecting big-government welfare statism. They were quite willing to tax themselves for more traditional civic purposes. The best evidence: voters across the country approved two-thirds of all bond or tax referendums to fund libraries. "I can recall few periods of such vitality for central urban libraries," says Eleanor Jo Rodger, president of the Urban Libraries Council. New central libraries or major renovations are under way or recently completed in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Memphis, Phoenix, San Antonio, and San Francisco. Both Chicago and Los Angeles have opened huge and celebrated new libraries within the past few years.

The new facility m Denver 1S a case in point. The 540,000-square-foot library, opened this spring, is the nation's fifth largest. Like most major library projects, Denver's required a public vote. The $90 million bond issue won 70 percent of the vote in 1990, when Colorado's economy was still recovering from collapsing land values.

Though libraries in a few cities, like Washington, D.C., are undergoing stiff cutbacks, Library Journal estimates that over the five-year period beginning in 1990-91, public library budget growth averaged "a healthy 7 percent per year." Even as Americans scale back a government that has overreached, they're as willing as ever to support essential services like libraries.


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next