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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.

Funding of Ohio's Public Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 03, 2005

The funding of Ohio's public libraries for 2006 and 2007 remains before the Ohio Legislature at this time.

The Ohio House of Representatives will vote on the proposed State Budget in April, and it appears there will be no changes from the Governor's recommendation. That recommendation calls for reductions in all three Local Government Funds, which includes funding for cities and counties, villages and townships, and public libraries. The recommended reductions range from 5-20 percent for 2006.

As proposed, the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County would experience a lost of $ 162,000 combined with cuts made since 2001, as well as a freeze in growth of the Local Government Funds. The Local Government Fund for libraries is the sole source of funding for Ohio's public libraries.  Our smaller percentage cut is actually a larger dollar amount than the other local governments since they have other revenue sources.

The library system has already reduced its budget three times to adjust for previous cuts.  Eleven staff positions have not been filled in the past two years, and hours were reduced at our Brilliant and Toronto Branches. Our current budget covers all of 2005, and the proposed cuts in the Local Government Funds are adjusted to a calendar fiscal year.  If enacted, the latest cut will begin January 1, 2006. It is too early to determine how we can address these proposed cuts. At this time, our libraries are experiencing their greatest usage ever. It comes down to the issue of library usage and available funds allocated by the State Legislature.

In my 35 years of working in Ohio's libraries, I have experienced the ups and downs of library revenue, but never to the duration that Ohio is currently experiencing. I have also never experienced the shrinking of associated agencies that work with the library system to serve the public.

Our library uses various state offices and agencies to assist the public in their information needs, and that is now a real problem. Reduced staffing in Columbus and local offices means more e-mails, voice mails, and faxes that will be answered when possible. The State Library of Ohio has seen staffing diminish since 2001.  The library in Columbus has empty offices, and combined work assignments.

Our library system contracts with the State Library of Ohio for our automation system, delivery service, and reference service. Departments of the State Library coordinate our computer circuits, serve our physically challenged customers, and develop Continuing Education for staff. It is a time for creative administration and management, but I am running out of places to "pull the rabbit out of a hat." It seems like when I find another way to reduce costs for one thing, utility bills spiral higher and the retirement system increases deductions.

Maybe that is why I enjoy every day I work in a library.  Every day is new and different with the reward of a child learning to read at the library. By the end of June, Ohio's budget should be in place and next fall the decision-making will take place to provide library service with the budget provided.