Magazine article American Libraries

Recession Forces Ohio Libraries to Take Drastic Measures. (News Fronts)

Magazine article American Libraries

Recession Forces Ohio Libraries to Take Drastic Measures. (News Fronts)

Article excerpt

Dwindling tax revenues in 2002 are shrinking state aid to Ohio libraries by millions of dollars. Although the percentage of the tax that funds libraries remains the same, 5.7%, the recession has affected the amount collected, and with a majority of libraries dependent on state dollars, that spells bad news for public libraries and the communities they serve.

The state agency responsible for distributing funds, the Library and Local Government Support Fund, has about 8% less for libraries than last year, compared to an annual average increase of 5%-6% since 1993. Revenues fell from $496.5 million in 2001 to an estimated $457.7 million this year, according to data kept by the Ohio Library Council.

Ohio's excellent funding in past years is reflected in the most recent survey of public libraries conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics: In FY 2000, Ohio was ranked first among all the states in both total operating expenditures per capita and circulation transactions per capita.

Closings threatened in Cincinnati

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced July 15 that its loss of $4.3 million in state funding would force it to close five of its 41 branches effective September 1. Officials said the closures would save the library $1.5 million, with an additional $700,000 saved by cutting supplies and contracted services and maintaining a hiring freeze. More than 90% of the library's $52.5-million budget comes from the state, Library Executive Director Kim Fender told American Libraries.

The branches--Bond Hill, Greenhills, Deer Park, Mount Healthy, and Elmwood Place--were selected because they are all small and located less than three miles away from other branches.

However, the decision provoked hundreds of residents to mount petition drives, write letters, hang banners over city streets, and ask local ministers to address the topic from the pulpit. It also prompted a declaration, signed by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune and officials from the five affected communities, that strongly urged the trustees not to close any branches. "It's important to send a unified statement that we are all serious about this issue," Portune said in the July 28 Cincinnati Enquirer.

A week later, trustees granted the five branches a temporary reprieve to allow a series of public hearings, the first of which was scheduled for August 27, to get input from residents and discuss alternative funding. "We've considered many ways to keep the libraries open but this is the best we can come up with," Board President Bailey Turner announced to dozens of residents who packed the Greenhills branch at a July 22 press conference to rally for the branches.

Ohio Senate President Richard Finan (R-Evendale) warned the crowd that the reprieve didn't mean the branches would stay open indefinitely, the Cincinnati Post reported July 23. "Our phones have rung off the hook over the last several days and we wanted to be able to let you give input," he said.

"It's interesting to be on the other side this time," Fender told AL. "What I'm hearing from the community are the same comments that we use when we go to legislators and ask for support for libraries. Of course, we agree with every word they are saying."

The delay was made official at a July 29 board meeting, but keeping the facilities open may require passage of a new county tax levy. Fender acknowledged this was new territory for the library. …

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