Library Officials Discuss Levy with Public

Helene Miller

For the first time in over 100 years, the Kent Free Library is asking for a levy. John Ryan, president of the board of trustees for the library and Director Stacey Richardson spoke on behalf of the library at Monday night’s meet the candidates meeting.

Public libraries in Ohio receive most of their funding from the state, but as the economy declined, so did the cash flow. The biggest hit the library budget took was a whopping 31 percent in 2010.

Ryan mentioned that many Ohio cities have already asked for library levies. Kent wanted to hold off on the levy for the economy to get better, but library officials were fearful of depleting reserve funds. Ryan said they felt this was a good time to do it because no other levies are proposed in Kent this year.

At this point in time, the Kent Free Library officials have already shortened hours of operations, frozen employee wages and cut back on the materials budget. Richardson also discussed reductions in other areas such as landscaping and janitorial services.

“We tried to do all the invisible things first, but the cuts have become so deep that they started affecting things that the public does see,” Richardson said.

She said the most noticeable cuts were the library’s outreach programs for young children and the elderly. Also the library’s computer lab is far outdated. For example, the computers are currently operating with Microsoft Office 2003.

The Kent Free Library already utilizes e-reader book “copies” and other avenues of obtaining discounted materials, but the current funding just can’t provide all the materials and services the community wants and needs.

Should the levy pass, Richardson hopes to do several things with the additional funds:

•Restore original hours of operation of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., making it easier

for working adults to get to the library

•Restore the materials budget to accommodate Kent residents with the

proper number of copies of books, DVDs, etc.

•Reestablish outreach services to preschools, daycares and homebound patrons

•Update the computer lab with current hardware and software

While the levy would not bring the library back to the amount it once received from the state, Ryan said it would provide enough revenue to reinstate cut programs and move the library into the future.

Ryan also clarified the point that while all of the libraries in Portage County worked together to market and develop their levies, each levy is separate. In other words, the Kent taxpayers’ money will only go to the Kent Free Library, and the Kent vote will not be affected by another city’s vote.

Richardson said it takes about $1.3 million annually to operate the library. The proposed operating levy of 1.8 mill should produce an annual revenue of $884,000 for the library, Richardson said.

Richardson wants the library to become the “third space” in the community. It refers to the theory that the “first space” is a person’s home and the “second space” is a person’s place of employment. The “third space” should be a place where the community gathers.

“My vision for the Kent Free Library is that the library should be the gathering space for the community because it serves every resident from cradle to grave,” Richardson said.