|From the Editor: Library Funding|
|Written by - David C. Miller, Editor|
|Wednesday, 24 June 2009 08:13|
For more than 200 years, public libraries have proudly served every Ohioan who walked through their doors. But some of those doors might soon be permanently closed if a proposed 50-percent cut in state funding becomes reality.
Until the turn of this century, Ohio's network of 251 library districts was the envy of all of the other states. Ohio's per capita state funding ranked among the top two or three states throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike the state's school libraries, the public libraries had adequate funding to remain as current as possible in purchasing new materials each year for the benefit of their patrons.
When then-Gov. George Voinovich provided the funding to create the Ohio Public Library Information Network in the mid-1990s, Ohio's General Assembly, under the leadership of Rep. Randy Gardner, provided complementary funding to ensure that free Internet access would be available to patrons in all of the more than 650 public library buildings in the state.
So it was very appropriate that a book written about the first 200 years of Ohio libraries was entitled "Best in the Nation."
For a state that is more accustomed to hearing that it ranks 43rd or 47th in state funding of other public services, libraries provided Ohioans with an opportunity to take pride in being among national leaders in an important area that complements education - from pre-school through adult continuing education.
"Best in the Nation" was published a mere six years ago - six years that have not been kind to libraries.
State funding freezes turned into small percentage cuts, followed by larger cuts. But all of those cuts are minor compared to the draconian 50-percent library funding cut being proposed by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
Very few, if any, public libraries have escaped the past five or six years without cutting their hours, their staffs and their budgets for new books. The majority of employees of the small to medium-sized libraries are part-time employees earning modest hourly wages. Many have already volunteered to work fewer hours to lessen the budget cut impacts on patrons. They have helped keep a thumb in the budget-cut dike up to now, but it's not enough to avert the pending deluge of temporary or permanent closures of library buildings throughout the state.
"Free" library services come at a cost, and very few of Ohio's library districts have local levies to help supplement the state funding.
If Strickland's cut is enacted as proposed many library districts will be forced to attempt to pass local levies. Few will be successful. There never is a good time to pass new or additional levies, and now is the worst of times with Ohio's double-digit unemployment and depressed economy.
Ohio's growing number of unemployed residents need more access to the latest in resources from their libraries. Nor can they afford to drive more miles to libraries if their local branch is forced to close.
Closing libraries, or drastically reducing their hours, runs counter to helping communities offer their young people more positive things to do.
And no story times for the youngest of patrons robs that future generation of the chance to get excited about reading and learning at an early age.
Ohio's public libraries have paid more than their fair share in budget cuts over the past five or six years. They are struggling desperately to keep their heads above water as it is. Another budget cut even close to the size Strickland is proposing would permanently damage Ohio's public libraries of all sizes.
If the governor fails to pull his proposed cut off the table, the General Assembly needs to firmly say it's time to stop the bleeding of Ohio's libraries.
- David C. Miller, Editor
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