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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.

Ohio's Library Funding Crisis Continues

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jefferson County’s public libraries have been saved from closure thanks to the actions of thousands of Ohio’s citizens, both here and across the state.

 

The largest outpouring of support for any agency in recent memory clogged the phone lines in Columbus, jammed the e-mail servers, and overwhelmed FaceBook and Twitter to assure the Ohio General Assembly and the Governor that Ohioans do use their libraries!

 

Jefferson County residents have returned over a half million dollars to its library system; dollars that had been proposed to be cut from the Public Library Fund.

 

I am humbled by the outpouring, as well as the calls and e-mails to the local library with countless stories of how the local library impacted someone’s life.

 

Governor Strickland’s proposed cut of 30 percent to the Public Library Fund was reduced to 11 percent in Conference Committee.

 

Added to the 20 percent reduction due to declining revenue collections, we still have a large budget loss to address, but not nearly as high as proposed.

 

My thanks to State Senator Wilson and Rep. Domenick for their support of libraries, and their understanding of the importance of local libraries.

 

As everyone knows, we are in difficult economic times, and the library system wants to do its part.

 

But a total 50 percent cut is unreasonable for an agency whose use is increasing with the economic decline of our times.

 

A cut in library funding to that magnitude angered people frustrated with the economy who are turning to public libraries for education, information, and personal growth.

 

When you have been the library director for 26 years, many people recognize you, and stop and tell you both good and bad things about the library system.

 

A man told me that he was in the Main Library recently, and he noticed the portrait of Andrew Carnegie that hangs over the front door.

 

The framed portraits were provided to the library buildings funded by Carnegie as part of the celebration of his 100th birthday in 1935.

 

Anyway, this man told me to “take a second look” at the portrait, as he thought “Carnegie looked a little mad” at the thought of a cut in funding for libraries.

 

If you have read any of Carnegie’s writings, he felt that the local library was the “people’s university,” the way for the common man to better himself – thus the basis for Carnegie’s funding of thousands of libraries.

 

I thought that Ellen Summers Wilson, the first librarian, could be heard stomping around the attic, growling at the thought of a cut in library funding.

 

We now must move on to develop a workable budget, and continuing providing library service to our community.

 

In the meantime, knowing that a cut is still being addressed; people have asked what they can do.

 

I suggest that you can give the library a gift of a new book, or perhaps remember someone with a Memorial Book donation to the library.

 

With libraries busier than ever, and less funds to buy new titles, a new book would be appreciated by the library and your fellow library users.

 

This fall, we will likely develop a list of things that you can volunteer to do at your local library.

 

The library closed for 3 months in 1924 when we couldn’t afford to buy coal for the boiler.

 

In 1934, operating funds were so short that all evening hours were ended to save on electricity.

 

The roof leaked so bad in 1948 that people donated rags to help soak up the water so as not to damage the books.

 

Emergency hours were common in 1973 during the energy crisis.

 

And the Dillonvale Branch was flooded in 1990 and closed for months to allow clean-up after the flood filled the library with water.

 

Hopefully, this too shall pass, and a hearty thank-you to everyone for their help!