State libraries could rely on levies for funding

Joseph Zucker

Public libraries across the state will continue to look to voters to help plug the hole stemming from Gov. Kasich’s proposed budget.

The budget, which has yet to be approved, calls for a 5 percent cut in public funding to libraries. State Librarian Beverly Cain said library funding has been decreasing for the past decade.

“Libraries are funded on a percentage of the tax revenue,” Cain said. “That revenue goes along with the economy, so it’s been a natural decline.”

She said libraries have had difficult decisions to make when it comes to balancing their budgets.

“We’ve seen some staff layoffs in libraries across the state,” Cain said. “But the public has been most affected. A lot of libraries have had to cut their hours of operations, so then people aren’t able to go in and use it as much. And the libraries don’t have the same kind money for materials, so instead of getting five copies of the newest John Grisham novel, they can only get one. Then you have a lot of people waiting to get that book.”

Operating levies are something of a more recent occurrence. Cain said only a few libraries had them before the economy went down. Now, 62 percent of the libraries in Ohio have operating levies. In the upcoming May elections, 16 libraries have levies on their local ballots.

Lynda Murray of the Ohio Library Council said there will more than likely be more levies on the November ballot.

“There was a slight drop-off from the number that was on the previous November ballot to what is on the May ballot,” she said. “What we’re seeing is that a lot of libraries are still waiting to see if the budget will be finalized, so they are holding off until they know the exact numbers.”

It is unknown whether the Kent Free Library will pursue an operating levy on the November ballot. Director Carmen Zampini said no decision has been made by the board of directors.

Libraries have seen success in more recent elections. In May 2010, 25 of the 29 library levies on the ballot passed, and in November 2010, 12 of 14 passed.

Murray said most levies are very small, right around $1 million or a little bit more. She said libraries would only be looking to make up for any money lost by the budget cuts.

“Most of these levies are only to bring the libraries back up to where they were or maybe a slight bit lower,” she said. “They won’t be bringing in more money than they had before.”

Cain said for the libraries that don’t pass operating levies, the consequences can be severe.

“In Holmes County, they tried three times to pass levies for their libraries, and they failed all three times,” she said. “So they had to shut branches down completely. Clearly, these levies can have a big impact.”

Contact Joseph Zucker at [email protected].