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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

Cut in library funds reduces quality of life

BY CLYDE SCOLES

It is the People's University, offering knowledge to those who seek it for its own sake or for their own reasons.

The public library may be the most democratic public institution in America.

The public library does not care what language or what credentials its patrons possess, what tests they can pass, or who their parents were. Its doors are open to all.

Yet because state funding for Ohio's Library and Local Government Support Fund (LLGSF) has been repeatedly reduced over the past few years, library doors are closing all over Ohio.

In a world that's at war, with fears of deadly diseases and countless other concerns that engulf and affect our daily lives, funding for Ohio's 250 public libraries may seem to be a back burner issue. But your library is not just important to this community - it is vital, perhaps now more then ever.

The public library makes tangible and consistent contributions to the quality of life in our community. The library is felt in the schools, in the homes and/or on the desks of area businessmen and women. The level of library participation in the lives of every single member of our community is unparalleled.

The average Lucas County resident checked out 14 books from our library system last year and visited the library nearly seven times. Those numbers, the uncontradicted evidence, lead to one conclusion: that library services are widely used and universally accepted by Lucas County citizens.

Unfortunately, state funding slashes have eliminated $2.5 million in operating funds for the first six months of this year alone, resulting in drastic reductions in materials, hours, and staff. The reductions are tangible. Just this past year we bought 15,000 fewer books for our collection than we did in 2001.

The loss in operating funds since 1999 has forced the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library to reduce not only materials but services, including the personnel budget, termination of Sunday hours, cutbacks in furniture and supplies, and curtailing of repairs, cleaning, and landscaping of our facilities.

Nearly 74 percent of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's operating funds are derived from the LLGSF. These funds pay for the library on a day-to-day basis and are used for everything from employee salaries to purchasing books and materials to paying utility bills.

Fortunately, the funds for all capital improvements to the Main Library and all 18 branch libraries flow from a 10-year bond levy passed in 1995 by 74 percent of Lucas County voters. This money has supported this library's pledge to the citizens of Lucas County and can only be used for renovating, expanding, and improving our facilities.

But ironically, as buildings are improved and library users visit in record numbers, our services are hampered by insufficient funds for operating support. It is truly disheartening to reduce hours of service for streams of citizens using their libraries more than ever.

From students checking out required reading materials for school to people scanning home and/or car repair manuals to job seekers searching for employment opportunities and/or those using library meeting rooms.

Even the slightest cut slashes deep into our community.

Right now, our hands are tied. The library won't have as much money this year for books, videos, DVDs, and CDs as we did last year. We won't be open as many hours. There won't be as many staff members available to help.

In 2002, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library welcomed 6.6 million visitors who checked out 3.4 million materials.

Sixty-six percent of all Lucas County residents possess library cards. I would hope these statistics stand as a testament with our decision-makers about the quality and quantity of support public library service enjoys in Lucas County.

The Ohio General Assembly and Governor Taft must balance the wants, needs, and desires of the residents of the state with the funds available. We recognize that some things are not feasible in the current economic climate, yet certain services desired by the public are obtainable.

What if the 66 percent of Lucas County citizens holding library cards were permitted to vote? In the history of democratic elections, no one has ever lost with 66 percent of the vote, and in my eyes the residents of Lucas County have voted for a strong public library by simply signing up for a library card.

The library is an asset, a fixture, and a community resource the residents of northwest Ohio have continually supported with their pocketbooks and patronage.

The budget debate raging in Columbus is vital to many state services, but the quality and quantity of public library service across the state should not be hostage to less critical needs.

Library doors are slamming shut when they need to be open. Computers are shut down when they need to be powered up. Bookshelves are being depleted when they need to be filled. Opportunities are being lost which can never be recovered.

Opportunities exemplified by those who have the chance to make a difference, such as Spec. Christopher Selmek, a Toledoan fighting in Iraq.

As a member of the United States Army, 19th Public Affairs Detachment, he is part of a team responsible for the news that comes out of Southern Iraq. A photo of Specialist Selmek arrived recently at the Oregon branch library as part of a contest asking patrons to take pictures of themselves with their library card when they travel this year.

The contest is inspired by the phrase “Lending You The World” emblazoned on all Toledo-Lucas County Public Library cards.

Specialist Selmek's photo depicts him in full camouflage fatigue, M-16 rifle in hand, in front of a bombed out building in the town of Az Zubayr, just outside of Basra. His Toledo-Lucas County Public Library card is positioned on his Army boot.

In a note accompanying his photo, Specialist Selmek says, “I used to be a page in the children's room way back when it was still being renovated, but that was before I went to basic training and before the world got more complicated. I still read as much and as frequently as I can. I suppose I have the Toledo library to thank.”



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