The dust has settled and Ohio has a new two-year budget. Once again that budget includes less funding for public libraries. I’m not sure why, since State tax revenues are up but, nonetheless, funding to public libraries has been cut.
When State funding first began to drop in 2001, we took the approach of tightening our belts. We trimmed here and there, spent less on materials, cut hours, postponed capital improvements and that got us through the first round of cuts. Our thinking was that the economy would recover soon and our funding would bounce back with that recovery.
That didn’t happen. Instead the economy worsened and library funding declined with it. So, we cut deeper, cancelled capital projects and used the funds for those projects to keep every branch library open. As years went by it became apparent that without new revenue as many as 20 of our branch libraries would have to close. We simply did not have the funds to operate our entire Library.
We were heartbroken and terrified that the Library used so heavily by our cardholders and built over more than 150 years would be dismantled. But Hamilton County voters came through and provided the new revenue needed to offset the State funding losses we had suffered between 2001 and 2009.
Now we face more cuts. In addition to the State funding cuts a recent reappraisal of properties in Hamilton County will also reduce our funding from the new tax levy. In 2012 our income will drop by another $3.2 million and our State funding will be the lowest it’s been since 1990.
With the passage of this new State budget we know now that public libraries are not going to share in the economic recovery of our State. Knowing this we must act to keep our Library financially sound. So we’re making changes to how we operate. We’re outsourcing some positions and continuing to scrutinize expenditures. Staff members received no raise this year and are paying more of their benefits – at a time when they are busier than ever. That’s the real irony behind all the funding cuts. Use of the Library is increasing. Through July the number of items borrowed increased 8% or 750,000. Program attendance grew 33% or 68,000, the number of cardholders is up 19.9% and the number of visits to our Library is 4.3 million.
Unless our funding begins to increase, and there’s nothing to indicate it will, we face difficult decisions in the next two years. As we make those decisions we will keep in mind the enormous demand for Library service in this community and do everything we can to continue providing excellent service to all.