PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
“Why is the local public library in the state budget?”
That is an often-asked question by legislators, especially in recent years. The history of library funding has faded into the past, and with term limitations on state legislators, there are no longer “senior” legislators who can recount decisions of years gone by.
The answer is actually a two-step process undertaken by the Ohio Legislature in two different time periods.
From the time the first library was funded by a local government in 1805, there were laws governing the establishment and operation of public libraries in Ohio.
Libraries open to the public were generally a department of a city or county government, townships, or a school system.
By 1930, Ohio was a patchwork of about 300 public libraries serving about half of Ohio’s citizens.
A major effort to develop library service statewide was undertaken by the State Library of Ohio and then-State Senator Robert Taft, which evolved in the creation of the situs intangibles tax in 1933 for the local funding of libraries.
Our library system was formed in 1899 by the City of Steubenville. In 1936, we were assigned countywide library service under the new intangibles tax.
Further formation of new libraries was stopped in 1947 by legislative action, requiring any future libraries to be part of existing systems.
Consolidation resulted in the number of public library districts in Ohio settling at 250 by 1970.
In 1983, a tax study commission recommended that the intangibles tax be abolished, and become part of the state income tax.
From that came a dedicated fund of the state income tax for libraries, and thereby the answer to the original question.
This new fund contained a formula for distribution of the funds to the 250 library districts which included an “equalization factor” to bring equalized funding of libraries statewide.
This allowed our library system to establish our branch libraries in system-owned buildings, and link the system with a computerized network.
The 1990s brought a reduction to the library fund by the legislature, which became a “freeze” to the fund in 2002, ending the equalization factor.
Since the state income tax was slated for reduction, the library fund was moved in 2008 to a percentage of all state revenues.
With the economic downturn, the Public Library Fund declined on its own since it was part of the state revenues.
In July 2009, the governor recommended a reduction in the Public Library Fund, and the compromise reached with the legislature was a total 31 percent reduction from Aug 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011.
Our library system had initiated budget reductions beginning in 2003 as the Public Library Fund was frozen and experienced small two small cuts.
In 2006, the Regional Library System serving SE Ohio closed and we lost our cooperative venture. All of the libraries of SE Ohio worked together to continue cooperation and strengthen the computer network that now served 74 libraries across Ohio.
With the largest cut in 2009, we cut hours and watched as the staff declined from 79 employees in 2002 to 57 employees today.
We examined every item in the library budget, emphasizing in those things with a direct impact on public service.
The Library Board established the 2010 budget that utilizes the remaining resources that we have maintained over the years, including automation funds, building funds, and bookmobile funds, as we determined what would be needed to retain a library system for Jefferson County.
With that in mind, the Library Board will be asking for county residents to consider a 1 Mill, 5 year operating levy for the library system on the November election ballot.
This is the first levy that the library system has ever presented to the voters in our 110 year history, and is our only option for funds to replace the 31 percent cut in the Public Library Fund.
We do not take this move lightly, and we understand that we are placing a tremendous responsibility on ourselves with the public.
We hope and trust that the services we provide to the public at our libraries in Adena, Brilliant, Dillonvale, Tiltonsville, Toronto, Schiappa, Main Library, and on our bookmobile will be considered important enough for you to consider.