Governer institutes cuts in public funding for libraries

Ellen Duffer | Associate Editor

Libraries in Ohio need help. Due to recent statewide budget cuts imposed by Governor Ted Strickland, public libraries are facing the need to reduce hours of operation, sizes of staff and frequency of purchasing new material.
Mason Public Library is not immune to the loss of funds, according to the library’s director, Sarah Brown. Although the library has faced budget cuts in the past, she said that these are the largest cuts it has seen.

“Ninety-eight percent of our funding comes from the state of Ohio,” Brown said. “We don’t get any kind of regular funding from the city or the township. Over the years, we have had percentage cuts of the amount of monies that came out of Columbus. This is the most severe[cut that has occurred.]”

Brown said that the library learned the specifics of the budget cuts this summer.

“We ended up at roughly around 33 percent [of our funding being cut],” Brown said. “It’s pretty drastic. The state’s fiscal year starts in July. So, we learned [that] between July and as soon as possible, we had to cut $150,000 out of our budget.”

After Strickland announced the cuts in state funding for public libraries in July, Mason Public Library had to start creating a plan for action and implementing its own cuts, Brown said.

“We’ve already laid off five staff members, and two have resigned,” Brown said. “We’ve cut 23 hours out of our schedule. We’ve cut our spending on new materials for the library, print and non-print, drastically. We’ve reduced the number of activities we have at the library — some of that was forced when the hours were cut.”

Because there is no predicted increase in funding from Ohio, Brown said the library is considering putting a levy on the ballot in May to obtain more money.

“There’s no evidence that it’s going to get any better, so the board voted to pursue a levy in the spring,” Brown said. “[But,] if the levy is successful, then we won’t see the money until the collection which would be early in 2011. If the levy goes through, we surely will be able to reinstate [the previous] hours [of operation].”

The budget cuts led to the closing of the library on Sundays, which, according to Brown, were days on which the library was highly frequented.

But, Brown said there weren’t many ways to save money — they had no choice.

“Sundays were wonderful days for families,” Brown said. “We opened at one and we closed at five, so they could go to church or sleep in or whatever they do and still get here and get things done. So, we felt very badly about that. I mean, none of this did we want to do: it was either turn off the lights and lock the doors or [lose more money].”

Senior Nisha Giridharan said she has seen firsthand the effects of Strickland‘s cuts. As a member of the library’s Teen Advisory Board, which helps decide which young adult books the library should purchase, Giridharan said she has witnessed a more selective approach among the library’s staff to buying books for public use and a motivation to find other ways to stock the library with material.

“Basically, the budgets for teens and children have gone down significantly,” Giridharan said. “[The library staff members] really want to encourage the children to read; so, I think later this year they’re going to have a school-wide book drive to try to get more books, because unfortunately, our budget’s been cut. That affects how much material we’re allowed to buy every month, and we’re being a lot more selective, now. It used to be [that] if we heard there was some interest for a book, we’d just ask to purchase it. But now [there] has to be a significant amount of people who want the book.”

Besides book purchases, the library will be cutting its schedule of organized activities and events, especially those held for adults.

“We cut back on some of our Story Hour programs and activities for the young people,” Brown said. “The only programming we’re going to be able to offer for adults now are things that we can do free of charge. For example, we offer help with your taxes in the spring. I don’t think people realize that to bring in an author or a performer, you pay for that. You get a better rate because you’re a library, but still, it’s expensive.”

Brown said she is optimistic that the library’s current cuts will satisfy those currently imposed by Ohio. If Strickland and the Ohio government cut more funding for public libraries, however, Brown said the library may have to stop getting new books entirely.

“Hopefully we can get by with the cutbacks we have in place now,” Brown said. “If the funding gets any worse from the state, of course cutbacks will be more severe. Conceivably, if it gets worse, we could just stop buying new materials altogether.”

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