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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.

California Libraries and Ohio

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 28, 2015

My wife and I recently returned from a 6,500 mile train trip to California, and I must admit that, as usual, I kept my eyes peeled for any libraries along the way.  In Los Angeles, we stayed with my librarian-friend, so library talk was hard to avoid.


He is retired from the Glendale Public Library, so a short visit to that facility was in-order, and he lives just down-the-block from the Los Feliz Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library System, so naturally a visit was undertaken.


The 2008 economic downturn to our nation’s economy has not been kind to California libraries with reductions in hours and staffing cuts common across the state.  In the Los Angeles area, there is the city library system and its branches, a county library system, as well as independent libraries serving specific communities.


Like most states, California libraries are funded by local governments, usually cities and counties, often a department of that government agency.


In the news while we were in California was a library debate taking place in neighboring Nevada within the Reno area.  The Washoe County Library System serves the area with a Main Library and 12 Branch Libraries, and the system was trying to work with a 40 percent budget cut.


Public meetings were underway regarding a proposal to close the Duncan-Traner Branch and the Verdi Library and Nature Center Branch to address the budget shortfall.


It was clear that previous efforts had already been undertaken to reduce the budget, as the Main Library is only open 3 days a week and Sunday afternoon.


The debate that was underway was whether the usage of those branches should be the determining factor in their operation; or whether the need for a library was imperative to the area; or should geography of Washoe County be the basis for library locations.


Those three factors in some format have been used around the country as library closings are debated.  None of these factors ever win against the reality of the library budget.


The Duncan-Traner Branch is located between two schools and operates as a school library during the day; and a public library two evenings.  The Verdi Library is open only 10 hours a week in partnership with another county agency.  Both locations appear to have lost their battle to survive, yet the whole system is losing with few open hours even at their larger locations.


I have worked in Ohio’s public libraries for the past 45 years, and they are quite different from other states.  As early as 1869, Ohio library development was guided by progressive state laws; and in 1906 the State Library of Ohio was granted a “Library Development Office” to assist in managing the Carnegie grants being made to Ohio cities.


In 1933, former State Senator Robert A. Taft promoted a major rewriting of Ohio’s library laws to establish Public Library Districts and promoted countywide systems with funding via the county-collected Intangibles Tax.


A Library Commission following World War II recommended that the establishment of any new public libraries be stopped, and any new facility had to be a branch of an existing library district; a recommendation that became law on Sept. 4, 1947.


As a result, Ohio has 251 Public Library Districts, one of the smallest number of library systems in the nation when compared to N.Y., Pa., Ill., and Texas; yet there are over 800 library locations in Ohio counting all the branches of those Districts.


Computer automation of libraries began in Ohio in 1967 with the establishment of OCLC in Columbus.  Today, OCLC, Inc. is the world’s largest library database and Ohio has linked its public libraries into systems allowing Ohio’s citizens to use the collections of multiple libraries sharing online databases through OPLIN (Ohio Public Library Information Network).


We are a founding members (1988) of the SEO Library Center operated by the State Library of Ohio, and can access the 7 million items in the system contained in 91 Library Districts across Ohio.


As these systems have developed, and with the addition of eBooks and eMagazines, the geographic location of libraries has been leveled by giving access to libraries from your home computer.


So, am I bragging about Ohio libraries?  I sure am; it is too bad that most Ohio libraries have supplemental levies to replace the state Public Library Fund that was supposed to be the library’s primary support.