PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
I was looking forward to 2009 as a budget year for the library system.
After seven years of cuts and funding freezes, the Ohio Legislature and Governor passed and supported a revamping in 2008 of the former Library and Local Government Support Fund to become the Public Library Fund.
The Fund would “ride the wave” of the economy without intervention, and provide support for Ohio’s 251 public library systems.
Well, 2008 was barely half finished, and the economy “headed South.”
The Ohio Department of Taxation had to revise downward their estimates for the Public Library Fund, and we reworked the budget four times in an eight month period.
By May, it appeared library budgets across the state would decline by 20 percent in 2009 from declining revenues.
Three weeks ago, we made more budget adjustments and reduced hours beginning in August for the Adena and Brilliant Branches, the Main Library, and the Bookmobile.
On Friday, June 19, Governor Strickland scheduled a Press Conference to unveil his recommendations to address the larger revenue shortfall in the 2010-2011 state budgets.
The budget in the Ohio House and Senate had left the Public Library Fund as is, “riding the wave of the economy,” adding two library agencies to the fund, and transferring funds to cover those agencies.
On Saturday, I stopped by the library, and was in my 18th Century outfit, preparing to volunteer at Fort Steuben during the Dean Martin Festival, and notification came over my e-mail about the Governor’s recommendation for a 50 percent cut in the Public Library Fund on July 1.
The notice requested an answer as to what that would do to the library system’s budget.
In the short time I had, quick math indicated that half of everything the library does would be gone.
Actually, a 50 percent cut would require a higher budget cut with funds for unemployment compensation and maintaining buildings that would be closed.
I went on to the Fort that day, a couple of people asked if I was ill, and I responded, “Yes.”
Much of the weekend was spent calling my colleagues at other neighboring libraries, and discussing the information that we had all received.
We discussed what was intended for any library buildings that would be closed.
Are we expected to “moth ball” the facilities for later reopening, or eliminate their assets?
What am I supposed to do with 60,000 books that suddenly have no home?
I then thought about all the people that use those facilities, and how we constructed those brand new buildings in Toronto, Dillonvale, and Steubenville.
We renovated the library in Brilliant, and acquired and renovated libraries in Tiltonsville, and Adena.
I pictured the Bookmobile going down the country lane to a remote stop, with a waiting group of users at the store.
Librarians take these things more personally than the administrators that we are, we see the people impacted by finances.
As we informed our users of this recommendation of the Governor, the response was swift.
The Governor’s Office and legislative offices in Columbus were literally jammed with e-mails and phone calls.
As the week progressed, it was clear that libraries had been heard in Columbus.
The state budget process has slowed, and will now extend over the next month to allow review and additional ideas for addressing the severe financial issues at hand.
Now is the time for those written letters of support.
The future of library funding is still uncertain, and I thank everyone who has taken an active role in letting their support for libraries are known.