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Published: Monday, 10/20/2003

A vote for libraries

FOR what amounts to pennies a day, patrons of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library can help protect an invaluable resource from pound-foolish legislators by voting FOR Issue 14 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Even though the one-mill, four-year operating levy asks Toledo area residents for new financial support in admittedly tough economic times, the cause is supremely worthy - maintaining a free and thriving library system.

The library initiative, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $30 a year -not an astronomical sum - would generate $7.8 million annually for the system.

That infusion of funds is critical to counteract recent legislative developments that threaten to slowly dismantle the public library system in the state.

When lawmakers began eyeing cuts in or even elimination of the state library fund to offset projected state budget deficits, libraries around Ohio rightly panicked. Many depend entirely on the state's Library and Local Government Support Fund to remain open.

Others, like the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, rely on the state fund for most of their operating capital. The Main Library downtown and its 18 branches get 75 percent of their income from the state. The rest comes from funds, reimbursements, and a 10-year, one-mill operating levy passed in 1997. But because state funding has been frozen at 2000 levels, the local library system has lost several million dollars over the last 31/2 years.

That loss is keenly felt in library services and spending. The most notable cutback to Lucas County residents was the canceling of Sunday library hours in 2001. But the library has also pared back on materials, programs, and staff. All but emergency repairs have been deferred.

Fewer books have been purchased - 15,000 fewer each year. Fewer best-sellers and other most-in-demand material mean more time on the waiting list. The decrease in library revenue is also reflected in fewer staff positions.

“A library is more than a building with books,” says library director Clyde Scoles. “You need access and guidance by librarians and technology through the wealth of information contained within a library for it to fully blossom as a true community resource.” Passage of Issue 14 would fill 26 of 32 vacant staff openings.

Voting for the library levy would also restore Sunday hours, permit officials to purchase and upgrade computers and software, and increase the book budget to $5 million from $3.1 million in 2002, allowing the library to buy 160,000 books in contrast to 96,000.

Toledo area voters have steadfastly recognized the importance of maintaining one of the best library systems in the state - it has the fourth largest book collection in Ohio - by backing previous library levies and a bond issue in 1995 to renovate, expand, and improve facilities.

That raises an important point. Some citizens see the construction of new branches and believe - incorrectly - that the system must have all the money it needs. However, money earmarked for construction and renovation cannot be used for day to day operations.

The public's continued support of the library - despite economic hardships - will send a message to Columbus that some state funds keeping libraries open in Ohio should be sacrosanct. Public libraries - the “people's university” - are too essential to shortchange.

The library levy is clearly a vote for principle as well as the practical.



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