An Overview of the Essex Library Association and How It’s Supported
People usually take it for granted that their local library is fully supported by tax dollars. Although that is the case for the majority of public libraries in Connecticut, the situation here in Essex is somewhat different.
Most of the public libraries in Connecticut were started in the late nineteenth century by groups of civic minded individuals. The Essex Library Association, for example, was formed by a handful of private citizens in 1889. Its original collection consisted of approximately six hundred volumes, housed in a few rooms on the second floor of a building in Essex Square where the Talbot’s store is currently located.
In 1897 the Essex Library received a bequest from the estate of Captain Joseph Tucker that included a portrait of himself, three paintings of ships he had commanded and $5,000. The Library still owns the paintings, which are displayed in the 1889 Room and main reading room. The money was used to construct the Library’s first permanent home just off the Square at 3 South Main Street, a half-timbered Queen Anne style building that still stands.
By the late 1950’s the Library had outgrown this facility. A new structure that was three times the size of the original building was finally erected in 1980 at its present site on West Avenue. Twenty years later, the Library was, once again, experiencing growing pains. The building was expanded to roughly twice its size and completely renovated in 2006.
For the first few decades of its existence the Library was open to members only, who paid $1.00 per year. In 1924 the Town of Essex began contributing to its support, at which time borrowing privileges were made free for all Essex residents. The Library retained its status as an independent association, however, which could be joined for a minimum contribution of $2.00 per year. Members were entitled to “…one vote in the affairs of the Association.” The minimum contribution required to be considered a “member” of the Association is currently $35.
The Essex Library Association was granted 501 (c)(3) status by the IRS in 1970, and functions as an independent non-profit organization. It is governed by a twelve to fifteen member volunteer Board of Trustees who serve three year terms. In addition to being advocates for the Library, the Board of Trustees’ primary roles are to set policies that comply with legal and community standards, and ensure that the Library has the funding it needs to carry out its mission. The Board also hires a Director, who is charged with running the Library’s daily operations in a manner that is in accordance with its policies.
The bulk of the Library’s funding comes from three sources: the Town of Essex, the Annual Membership Appeal, and an endowment. Gifts, grants and miscellaneous other forms of income are also important. Funding from the Town of Essex accounts for approximately one half of the Library’s operating budget revenue each year. As a result, although it does receive some revenue from sources such as gifts, grants, fines and other fees, the Library relies heavily on its Annual Membership Appeal to fund its operations.
The Friends of the Essex Library is a totally separate group that also functions as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. They act as advocates for the Library within the greater community, and help support us in many other ways, as well, including the coordination of the many volunteers we use. The Friends raise money for the Library that is used to fund programs, materials and other resources that it might not otherwise be able to provide. However, their financial support is intended to be a supplement to, rather than primary revenue source for, our operating budget.