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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 Public Libraries - Different from the Rest

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 18, 2011

I recently drove back from Houston with my son, who had been doing a summer internship from college.


Unlike my article this past June when the trip was reversed, I had no exciting conversations on the train or bus about public library service.


When traveling, I am observant of public libraries that I pass along the way, or library brochures and promotional materials that I may encounter.


I have long learned that the public libraries in the State of Ohio are different in many ways from other states.


Texas libraries are organized and funded based on the local governmental unit in which they are located.  The Houston Public Library and the Harris County Libraries operate independently, which seems to be the case statewide.


Ohio first recognized the establishment of a public library in 1805, when the first code appeared in state laws.  Additional codes appeared throughout the 19th century giving local governmental units the authority to establish and fund public libraries.


The new Ohio Revised Code in 1900 had its own chapter on library establishment and operation, and was a trendsetter for allowing countywide library districts.


In 1906, a Library Development Office was established in the already century-old State Library of Ohio to ensure that eventually every citizen of Ohio would have access to public library service.


During this time period, many areas had a county public library, as well as a city library.  As time passed, the State Library established “county extension centers” to extend service from the city into surrounding counties.


The major change in Ohio started in 1933 when then-State Senator Robert A. Taft championed a re-write of public library laws and established the intangibles tax for library funding.


The citywide Carnegie Library of Steubenville was extended to countywide service in 1936 by the State Library, following a study by Mildred Sandoe, one of the premier State Library staffers of the era.



That was followed by the Ohio Public Library Commission which recommended that the establishment of public libraries be stopped on September 4, 1947; and all future additional libraries would be branches of existing systems.


Funding and structure were now different in the State of Ohio.


State Library staff criss-crossed the state, meeting with Library Boards and local officials helping to plan ways of extending service to all citizens of Ohio.


Early in my career, the State Library was doing “Long Range Planning Workshops” around Ohio, and ways of collaboration and sharing among libraries were always being sought.


Ohio was unique as the site of the first computerized catalog of library holdings in 1967 in Columbus, a system that now spans worldwide.


Shared databases of library collections expanded all around Ohio, networked out of Southeastern Ohio, Cleveland, and Columbus; supplemented by the Ohio Library Information Network established in 1995.


Today, even e-books are a collaboration in Ohio, in addition to the 5 day-per-week statewide delivery service that moves library materials to the site of request.


The negative side to this statewide collaboration system is that funding over the past 25 years has moved from a local tax, to a state mandated countywide tax, to a dedicated state fund for public libraries; which is now under review constantly without knowledge of its development.


Beginning with this year, we are now 2/3 funded by the Public Library Fund from the State of Ohio, and 1/3 funded by a local tax levy within the county.


I hope the collaboration is not lost in this funding shift, and Ohio’s 251 public library districts can continue to operate to the betterment of all Ohio citizens.