Libraries brace for more state cuts

By David J. Coehrs -

National Library Week is being celebrated, but the occasion could be tainted if legislators approve Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s bid to reduce state library funding.

In his latest biennium budget proposal, the governor is seeking a reduction of the general revenue fund’s contribution to library funding from 1.7 to 1.66 percent. The decrease would pare an estimated $7.7 million from the already tight budgets of the state’s 251 public libraries in Fiscal Year 2018.

And because that percentage is affected by the vagaries and resulting strength of the economy, the Archbold Community Library’s budget would be a guessing game, Director Joyce Klingelsmith said.

“If the state revenue doesn’t grow the library funding is decreased,” Klingelsmith said. “We’re really at the mercy of the economy, and that makes it difficult to plan (a library budget),” Klingelsmith said.

The 1.7 percentage totaled $377.6 million for the state’s public libraries in in 2016. The Ohio Library Council has proposed an amendment to Kasich’s budget that would maintain the 1.7 percent, but approval is still being considered.

Last year, Archbold’s library was notified it could expect $230,323 from the state, but actually received $5,334 less. Last year’s expenditures exceeded revenue by $26,000, leaving the library to tap into half of its reserve money.

“We been playing it pretty close to the vest,” Klingelsmith said.

This year, the library was told to expect a state contribution of $240,776 to its $451,674 budget. The remainder of the budget comes from the Public Library Fund (PLF) and a local tax levy.

Reductions in state funding means “a lot of wait and see” for Archbold’s library, the director said. “It’s very difficult to make any kind of projections long-term. It makes it very tough.”

Because the fiscal year begins in July, the library spends the first six months of the year spending frugally in anticipation of possible reductions. Presently, it’s cutting back on purchasing materials, most significantly books, to the tune of several thousand dollars. The cuts, however, will not extend to staff positions.

Klingelsmith concedes patron traffic was down about 3,000 between 2015-16. A change in the mean demographic of patrons shows fewer students using the library due to improved resources provided by local schools.

Older patrons are using the library’s bank of computers to download material from the Ohio Digital Library computers at a rate of over 1,000 items each month. Additionally, it’s Kasich’s intent that citizens use library facilities to resource online governmental services, Klingelsmith said.

“We’ll (provide) that, but don’t take away our funding,” she said. ‘We try to see that we use our resources the best we can, to get the most out of the ones we have.”

Klingelsmith said the forecast for Archbold’s library isn’t all doom and gloom.

“People still love public libraries, they still see the need for public libraries,” she said. “I think the level of support and interest we have from the community has not dropped. People’s interest in the library has not minimized.”

Janelle Thomas, Swanton Public Library director, said Kasich’s proposed funding change “would hit us hard, certainly, as I believe it would most libraries.”

The PLC accounts for 49.5 percent of the library’s 2017 budget of $595,245. “When you’re talking about half a budget, it would certainly make us look at what we would need to cut,” she said.

The library staff is encouraging patrons to contact local legislators to maintain the 1.7 percent share. Thomas said if the percentage is reduced the library will have to reevaluate what services and hours of operation may have to be reduced.

She said no patronage has been lost in any age demographic, circulation increased last year, and digital downloads are soaring.

“We’re still strongly supported by the community,” Thomas said. “We’re always optimistic – hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It’s one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.