ONE of the best educational resources Ohioans enjoy for free is in a bind literally and figuratively. Because of shortsighted funding priorities in the state, Ohio's public library system is steadily losing ground as it struggles to make do with less.
The financial strain of supporting expenses which the state will not has been especially tough on smaller library systems that depend almost entirely on funding from the Library and Local Government Support Fund. It receives revenue from a 5.7 percent allocation of the state's personal income tax.
But because of other budget considerations, the state has frozen that funding rate over the last few years, meaning libraries get less money to acquire new material, update equipment, and maintain the level of staff support and hours of service patrons have come to expect.
Two years ago the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library had to ask voters to make up the gaping difference in state support and essential library needs with a new 1-mill operating levy. If the library system had lost its bid to raise $7.8 million, staff, acquisitions, and operating hours would be adversely affected.
Fortunately Lucas County patrons refused to let that happen to their cherished libraries. Now the challenge is for patrons of smaller systems to follow suit.
Unlike their counterparts in large metropolitan areas, small-town libraries often have limited sources to mine for funding in addition to state support. But it hasn't been a serious problem until now.
With state government unwilling to support public libraries at previous levels, many libraries are being forced to ask voters for additional support to remain viable community assets.
Regionally, the number of such levy requests is only expected to grow.
Van Wert's Brumback Library, which hasn't asked voters to pass a levy since the Great Depression, will do so on Nov. 8 with a half-mill tax on the ballot. The Milan-Berlin Township Public Library is seeking a 1-mill levy to offset state budget reductions that have forced it to make cuts in staff, hours, and acquisitions.
A 1-mill library levy will also be on the ballot in Pemberville, where the public library used to be able to put money aside for needed expansion projects before the state cutbacks depleted much of its budget cushion.
Elsewhere, libraries in northwest Ohio that aren't going to their communities for financial help are just doing without until wiser heads prevail in Columbus. The Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green remains understaffed. The Lucas County library system is reducing its $35 million budget by $665,705, which will impact the acquisitions of books and videos.
It should never have come to this in Ohio, where, not long ago, government support for public libraries was virtually a given and the envy of librarians in other states. The funding was stable, and voters, already besieged with school levies, didn't have to worry about libraries, too.
Not any more. Not with a state budget process that takes such a wonderful educational resource in Ohio for granted.
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