Libraries in Toledo say users will suffer if funding is cut

6/23/2009
BY NEENA SATIJA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rebecca Lance gets a hug from some of her students after library story hour. The children at Monday's event were participating in a program of the Catholic Club.
Rebecca Lance gets a hug from some of her students after library story hour. The children at Monday's event were participating in a program of the Catholic Club.

Thomas Swartz visits the main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library two to three times a week. While he's there, he reads the newest books and area periodicals.

He also uses the free Internet services to continue his job search.

"There's a lot of people who depend on this place," Mr. Swartz said.

Demand for resources at public libraries across Ohio is at an all-time high - at the main library in downtown Toledo alone, circulation is up by double-digit percentages, and hundreds more people come through the library each day compared to a year ago.

However, libraries would be forced to drastically reduce services if Gov. Ted Strickland's new budget proposal for 2009-2011 becomes law.

The budget proposes a 50 percent cut to the Public Library Fund which would, if approved, result in a 25 percent funding cut for libraries in Lucas County, officials said.

The library fund makes up half of the library system's budget of about $30 million; the other half comes from a property tax levy.

"This proposal is extremely devastating," Clyde Scoles, library director, said during a press conference at the Main Library yesterday with more than 20 library advocates from around the community standing behind him.

Mr. Scoles noted that the budget cuts, if approved, would come after public libraries have already had to reduce their budgets by 20 percent because of decreases in the state's general revenue fund.

Library advocates urged Ohio residents to bombard state senators and representatives, as well as the governor's office, with calls of concern.

Mr. Swartz, who lost his job late last year and lives in a Toledo-area homeless shelter, said many of his friends at the shelter visit the library regularly to take advantage of its free materials and Internet.

Many also go to the information desk looking for help.

Linda Koss, a librarian and grantsmanship specialist at the main library, said growing numbers of people have been coming to her in the last year asking for help with finding work.

"Some of the cases are just heartbreaking," she said.

"Individuals will come in and say, 'My daughter is in foreclosure - what can we do about it?'•"

The main library's one-on-one computer assistance classes for job searches are booked through July.

The library received more registrations for an upcoming resume workshop than expected, and it has increased the workshop's capacity as a result.

The library acts as a "social service agency" with such resources, said Ms. Koss. "How many government offices are open until 9 o'clock at night?"

Reducing library hours probably would be one of the first cuts the library system considers if Governor Strickland's proposal is approved. The library already is under a hiring freeze.

"We're ceasing spending any money," said Margaret Danziger, the library's deputy director. "We're just on hold for everything new materials, new databases, equipment, furniture."

Children's programs could be cut at a time when attendance for those programs is at an all-time high.

A recent performance by a magician at the library was more heavily attended than it had ever been, said library spokesman Rhonda Sewell.

Other resources that might have to go include databases such as language-learning and investment-advice programs that cost thousands of dollars and are provided free through the public library's Web site.

As proposed, the budget cuts public library funding by $227.3 million over two years from the expected $403 million.

Ms. Danziger and Mr. Scoles, who have both been with the library since the 1970s, said they have never seen the system in such a dire financial state.

Both also said they were optimistic that public support would defeat the current budget plan.

"I think everyone needs to step back and take a breath," said Mr. Scoles.

"We're asking for a rethinking, a reconsideration."

This week the House-Senate conference committee is to consider the budget proposal and then send it back to the state legislators with the panel's recommendation.

Wood County District Public Library depends almost entirely on state funding.

Director Elaine Paulette said area libraries have already slashed book budgets and staff pay.

She said that after the proposed additional cuts were announced on Friday, she was in shock.

"I can't even imagine 50 percent," she said.

"Libraries in Ohio will be unrecognizable."

Contact Neena Satija at:

nsatija@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.