Toledo-Lucas County library cuts affect wide spectrum of users

4/5/2010
BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chelsea Custer, exploring the shelves at the main library, says she must wait longer for materials to appear in the library system.
Chelsea Custer, exploring the shelves at the main library, says she must wait longer for materials to appear in the library system.

To get to the main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library with enough time to do her homework, Scott High School senior Whitaker Greer must cut sports practice short.

When college student Ashley Miller looks for a book she needs for class, the copies are all checked out. Homeless man Court Kimble says he has nowhere to go on Sundays now that almost every library in Toledo is closed that day.

And nonprofit community arts group PRIZM has struggled to find new venues for its workshops. Branches have scaled back their evening hours, so the organization can't get a meeting room.

The people who use Toledo-Lucas County Public Library system are as diverse as the county's population itself, spanning all ages, ethnicities, interests, and income levels. Many have something in common: drastic funding cuts to the library system are affecting their lives.

The cuts have left both users and staff scrambling to adjust, having to make do with less, and sometimes going without.

"It's a drastic change for a lot of people," library spokesman Rhonda Sewell said. "We have such a diverse type of population that uses libraries: students, home schoolers, people who need social services, businesspeople, wealthy donors."

She added: "When people heard that the libraries were going to be cut, they were outraged."

That outrage has slowly been replaced by a resigned acceptance since the cuts went into effect last October, Ms. Sewell said.

But the changes still frustrate many library users.

Take lawyer Jeff Charles, who on a recent Friday was rushing to find the books he wanted at the main library in downtown Toledo before the doors closed at 5:30 p.m.

"It's a drag," Mr. Charles said. "People that work have a limited time. The evening hours are important."

Ms. Miller, who studies architectural engineering at Owens Community College and works full time, expressed similar irritation with the hour changes.

She used to get books from the Washington Branch Library around the corner from her house, but now it's closed on Saturdays, so she has to use the main library.

"I'm not too happy," Ms. Miller said. "[The library] is supposed to be something anybody can enjoy, but now I have to pay for parking, I have to travel across town. It's just a big effort."

Ms. Greer, the high school senior, said she doesn't have a computer at home, so she relies on access at the library for doing homework, filling out college applications, and searching for a job.

But with the library closed most evenings, the 18-year-old said it's been hard to get everything done.

"After school and sports I've tried to come, but they're closed," said Ms. Greer said, who plays volleyball, softball, and tennis. "I'm thinking I might have to cut out on sports."

Many of her classmates face similar situations, she said.

"Everything is on the computer," Ms. Greer said. "But most of the kids in my class don't have computers at home, so we have to use the library."

Reduced hours are by far the biggest gripe among library users.

Most branches formerly were open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on most weekdays, but they now close at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to Friday. Saturday hours are also greatly reduced, and only one branch - Sanger - opens on Sunday, down compared with five before the cuts.

Ms. Sewell said administrators chose where to cut the hours based on a formula that took into account library size, location, and use. She said they tried to ensure the busiest libraries remained open on the weekends.

"We still have weekend hours at some branch locations, just not at all of them," Ms. Sewell said. "We had to cut, unfortunately, and that's never an easy decision."

Mr. Kimble, the homeless man, said he was saddened the main library no longer opens on Sundays or in the morning on Mondays and Tuesdays. He is one of several homeless people who spend their days there.

"Mondays and Tuesdays, it's a terrible waste. I don't have anything else to do," the 62-year-old said. "Sundays are terrible."

Ms. Sewell, the library spokesman, said Toledo-Lucas County Public Library was fortunate to avoid branch closures experienced in other parts of Ohio. Those libraries are even more vulnerable to state funding cuts because they get no money from property taxes, Ms. Sewell said.

In addition to the reductions in hours, money to buy materials such as books, magazines, music, and DVDs has been cut 30 percent.

Circulation manager Cathy Bartel said she purchases fewer copies of books and other items, and more people must wait longer before an item they want to borrow becomes available.

And hold times, the wait before requested items become available, are exacerbated because more people are using the library.

Statistics show the number of materials checked out in 2009 was up 8 percent from the year before.

At the same time, staff numbers have decreased.

The cuts resulted in the loss of 21 full-time employees through retirements or layoffs, and 40 other part-timers were let go.

Those included all of the library's pages, whose job was to put books back on shelves.

To help reduce hold times, the library is putting into effect a system called "floating circulation," under which materials remain in whichever branch the borrower returns them to, even if they were checked out somewhere else.

"It will put more materials out on the shelves, rather than in bins moving around the county," Ms. Bartel said.

Loan times for books, meanwhile, have been reduced from four weeks to three weeks, with the aim of increasing the availability of materials, Ms. Bartel said.

Children's programs also have been affected by cutbacks.

Nancy Eames, the library's youth services coordinator, said the library has cut many story times and other programs, mainly because of the scaled-back hours and increased demand for meeting rooms.

That includes ending a program that sent a librarian out to preschools and day cares to conduct story times.

Some library users are reacting with their feet to the cutbacks.

At Way Public Library in Perrysburg, director Nancy Kelley said she's seen a big increase in people from Lucas County, especially on the weekends.

That includes more people getting library cards, using computers, and booking meeting rooms.

Part of the demand may be because Toledo-Lucas County's nearby Maumee and Waterville branch libraries no longer are open on Saturdays, Ms. Kelley said.

Way Public Library has not had the same budget cuts as its Lucas County brethren because property taxes in Perrysburg - which help fund the library - have not suffered the same steep declines, Ms. Kelley said.

Arts group PRIZM is one organization now using Way Public Library meeting rooms. It formerly used rooms at the Maumee library branch.

"Of course, with the cutbacks, they're only open Tuesday and Monday evenings now, so it's more difficult for all of the groups who were accustomed to meeting there to get the times they need," said Annette Jensen, the group's director. "You just have to readjust."

Library supporters and staffers have been doing what they can to help alleviate the impact of the cuts.

Efforts include making small changes in many areas to achieve larger savings.

For example, Charlie Oswanski, facilities and operations superintendent, has renegotiated the library system's contract with power company First Energy Solutions to save $144,000 a year. He also reprogrammed lights, heating, and cleaning schedules to use less energy, reduced irrigation to lawns, and automated the main library's parking garage.

The library's fund-raising arm, Library Legacy Foundation, started a campaign called "Bucks for Books" to bolster the materials budget.

Kathryn Fell, the foundation's secretary-treasurer, said $5,000 has been raised since October, and many people have approached the library to give funds, donate books, and offer suggestions.

"It's extremely gratifying to know the people in the community care so much about their library," Ms. Fell said. "They know we're a jewel in the community. They want our services, they need our services. They use us, they're behind us, they care."

Contact Claudia

Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.