Loss of $420,000 in funding causes Portage County Library to drop bookmobile program

Kristin Lindsey

Bookmobile services from the Portage County District Library will be suspended indefinitely starting today due to the continued loss of funding for Ohio libraries.

According to statistics from the American Library Association, the library lost about $420,000 in funding from 2002 to 2004.

The library’s main branch is in Garrettsville, with other branches in Aurora, Randolph, Brimfield, Windham and Streetsboro.

Cecilia Swanson, assistant director of the Portage County District Library, said 95 percent of the district’s funding comes from state income tax, and Gov. Bob Taft’s plan to reduce the income tax makes future funding questionable.

“We needed ($250,000) to buy a new vehicle, plus the ability to keep running the service,” Swanson said. “Funding is reduced each year. We don’t want to invest that kind of money if we can’t continue the service.”

In March 2004, the library proposed a $1 million tax levy through five years, which would have gone toward replacing the bookmobiles. The levy failed 58 percent to 42 percent. As a result, the district had to eliminate bookmobile service to schools last year, Swanson said.

Portage isn’t the only county with libraries undergoing hard times.

“There have been some scary moments in the last few years,” said Jon Hershey, mobile services manager for the Akron-Summit County Library. “It’s been a rough climate for Ohio libraries, and gas prices certainly don’t help.”

However, Hershey said he is guardedly optimistic and doesn’t expect the Akron library to cancel bookmobile services. The Akron-Summit County Library currently has a van and two bookmobiles that travel to senior living centers. Overall, the library’s mobile services make 33 school stops and 93 stops in the community, Hershey said.

“There’s certainly a place for libraries and bookmobiles,” he added. “They have a special place in people’s hearts.”

At the Portage County District Library, no jobs will be cut and the library will continue to deliver books to nursing homes, daycares and homebound patrons.

The Library Express program — which won an award in 2004 for its innovation — has online and automated telephone systems where patrons can reserve books 24 hours a day. Patrons are then notified by telephone when their materials are ready for pickup at one of the 15 Library Express locations in the county.

“We have a lot of communities around the county that don’t have a branch,” Swanson said. “This is a way we can serve them.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kristin Lindsey at [email protected].