Libraries face drastic cuts

Some local libraries may have to close their doors if proposed state budget cuts go into effect.
In order to balance Ohio’s budget, Gov. Ted Strickland plans to generate $227.3 million over the next two
years by cutting library funding by about 30 percent. That proposed cut would come on top of 20 percent
cuts already put in place.
"It’s a 50-percent cut, so we’re trying to get our minds around that," said Elaine Paulette,
director of the Wood County District Public Library. "It’s hard to imagine, and I can’t believe
this is the way out of Ohio’s recovery."
According to the Ohio Library Council, the professional association for the state’s 251 libraries, about
seven in 10 Ohio libraries are fully funded by state revenue. That includes all libraries in Wood County
except those in Perrysburg and Rossford. Many of those entirely supported by the state face closure.
Throughout Ohio, library officials have been willing to share the budget crunch pain, Paulette said. But
this cut goes too deep, and will leave some libraries no choice but to close.
Such is the case in Wayne, there 99 percent of the library’s funding comes from the state.
"If these budget cuts go through, that would be a possibility," Director Teresa Barnhart said
of closing the library. "I don’t know how we would survive."
The county library faces that same reality if the cuts go into effect.
"We certainly have to close for some period of time," possibly for weeks at a time, Paulette
said.
Staff at the county library has already been slashed from 52 two years ago, to 27 today. Hours have been
cut, material budgets have been reduced, pay has been dropped 4.5 percent, and fewer services are being
offered.
"I hate to cut anything that hurts patrons. But there’s nothing left," she said.
Paulette believes now is the wrong time for such deep cuts – at a time when family finances are low and
needs are high. Libraries are a source of free materials for many families, she said.
"I think the library is a stabilizing force for individuals and families," she said.
"Public libraries serve every Ohioan. I can’t think of any other agency that does that."
With the economic slump, many people are turning to libraries for help finding jobs – so drastic budget
cuts are unwise, Paulette said.
"It’s shocking. It’s shortsighted. We’re Ohio’s lifeline to a better economy," she said.
Paulette, Barnhart and other libraries across the state are asking citizens to take a stand and bombard
the governor’s office with letters, calls and e-mails about the proposed cuts.
"He needs to hear it is not acceptable for these cuts to be made," Paulette said.
State Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, believes it’s not too late to change Strickland’s mind in the
next week before the budget is approved.
"I’m confident most legislators think it’s unfair," Gardner said. "Hopefully this will be
an example of democracy in action."
Not only is the deep cut unfair, but it is also a break of a promise made two years ago when a commission
recommended a formula change for state library funding, guaranteeing them approximately 2.2 percent of
state general revenue money.
"Admittedly, Governor Strickland has some very difficult choices in striving to meet our
constitutional requirement to balance the state budget. Still, I cannot support his proposal to break
the historic agreement with Ohio’s public libraries entered into with the governor and legislature just
two years ago," Gardner said.
Libraries across the state have already made drastic cuts.
"It’s not as if they weren’t already participating in the pain," he said.
"I hope Ohioans will ask that the governor reconsider his plan to cut libraries and restore the
promise."
Those libraries with support from levies would still feel the hit from the cuts.
"We are just staggered by the news," said Nancy Kelley, director of Way Public Library in
Perrysburg. "We’re trying to figure out what it means to us."
State funding represents about half of the library’s budget. A cut of the magnitude suggested will mean
cuts in materials, hours, services and personnel.
"Serious changes will be made," Kelley said. The library has already halted all material
purchases and has suspended its technology program to replace aging computers.
This comes at a time when more people are coming to the library to use those resources.
Some residents have discontinued their home internet providers and are depending on the library. Some on
the job market have no computer skills, and library staff is available to assist them. "That’s
where libraries are serving the public," she said.
Jeannine Wilbarger, the director of the Rossford Public Library, also sees increased use of that
library’s resources.
That includes computers, but also summer reading programs, which provide free entertainment for families
not traveling because of budget constraints. And libraries also provide free entertainment in the form
of DVDs and reading material.
The state provides about 50 percent of the Rossford library’s budget.
Kelley said that the burden on libraries was unfair and disproportional to what other entities were
facing. She said library supporters this morning were planning to picket Strickland’s appearance at a
solar plant in Perrysburg late this morning. "We will not go down without a fight."