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Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County
Serving Jefferson County, Ohio Since 1899
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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Libraries Are An Important Part Of The Economy

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 27, 2005

844,749 were the total number of items checked out of our library system in 2004. For the 5th year in a row, our library system has set a new, all-time record for library usage.

The statistics for 2004 reflect some new ways of using a public library.  E-books and E-audio books made their appearance online during the year.  They can be accessed and downloaded from home and placed on your computer or hand-held device.

Databases are available on our e-branch web page, and with your library card you can search and download information. Our most popular online feature is called iPAC, which is the Public Access Catalog that provides access to the collections of 68 library systems in Ohio, and provides the ability to request those items for local pick-up.

As of 2004, more people used iPAC from home than used iPAC inside one of our library buildings.The iPAC allows you to search on your own at home, selected the materials you want, and then pick them up at your local library. You are still welcome to do it the old-fashioned way, by coming to the library and browsing the collection.  Librarians remain ready and willing to assist you at the library, or by phone, or e-mail, or fax.

Information is available from the library 24/7 these days with KnowItNow, an online link access from our e-branch web page. KnowItNow connects you to a librarian who will work through your information request online, and send you the answer.  They can also refer you to your local library or requests specific to that library.

And how about library customers?  Last year we had over 40,000 library cardholders in Jefferson County, a county of 70,000 residents. In 1965, there were 12,000 library cardholders in Jefferson County, which then had a population of 95,000 residents.

Does this answer the question of whether people today still use libraries? Our library system has about 180,000 items in our collections in 7 buildings and bookmobile.  We are part of a larger database of 68 libraries with 5.2 million items, providing our customers with the resources of a metropolitan library.

Add online databases and resources, and we have opened the world to our public. Libraries today must expand beyond the walls of their buildings to provide services to their public.  Books on the shelves cannot provide all of the information needed. Yet, we are still a library of books, and of librarians to serve the public.  We still have real people to answer the phone and staff the desks of the library in this age of the Internet.

And here is my disappointment.  The Governor's budget for the State of Ohio for 2006-2007 decreases public library funding again, with our library system losing
$162,000 in the next year. Since 2001, Ohio's public libraries will have lost 15% of our income, as funds are diverted to the State General Fund. We have taken steps to address those losses, largely by not replacing 11 employees who have left the library system.  Combined with reduced hours and reduced purchases, the library system of today is smaller than it was in 2001.

In 2006, we will also be impacted by other budgetary decisions being recommended in Columbus.  The Ohio Public Library Information Network, which provides our links to the Internet and automation, has been cut by 10% in the state budget. Regional Library Systems and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped have also been cut by 10% in the 2006 budget. The State Library of Ohio's budget is unchanged in the proposed budget, yet it has lost one-fourth of its staff in the past five years.

Look around Ohio in 2005 and see how many state and local offices don't exist anymore to serve the public.  Libraries are an important part of the economy of our region and state.  Let's fund them for everyone's benefit.