op-ed by David Jennings, Director of the Akron-Summit County Public Library
The public library’s role in American culture continues to evolve. The Akron-Summit County Public Library moved beyond books into audio and video in the 1970s and 80s, and brought the Internet into libraries in the 90s. Meanwhile, the longstanding principle of free access to all remains our core philosophy, and a key to a democratic society. In 2015 we demonstrate value in many different ways, from resources for job-seekers to computer access to free meeting space for community groups.
In 2014, the library had 285,000 cardholders who borrowed over 5.2 million items. Area residents either logged on library computers or connected to our free WiFi over 1.7 million times. Nearly 10,000 programs or meetings took place in our facilities, with attendance of 249,000.
One of our best contributions to this community is our high volume of quality programming for children. This programming encourages learning and literacy, and is an important component in the broad effort to better prepare our young people for a successful future.
Now we have e-books, e-magazines, and downloadable audio. Once again our services have evolved, and the array of formats offered includes those usable via mobile devices.
Finally, in the past decade, our organizational emphasis has been on community engagement and involvement. Our staff members have working relationships with over 100 local organizations, agencies, and schools in our service area. If there is a community initiative seeking a positive outcome in this area, it is likely the library will be part of that effort.
The library is a vital asset to our community, but services and programs require on-going funding. The library’s current 1.4 mill property tax levy represents about one half ($11 million) of the library’s annual operating revenue, and that levy expires in 2015.
Issue 8 on the May 5 primary election ballot is a request for renewal of the existing 1.4 mill levy and an increase of 0.5 mill. For the owner of a $100,000 home, the cost of Issue 8 is the following:
Current 1.4 mill renewal $4.08/month $49/year
Increase of 0.5 mill $1.46/month $17.50/year
Total cost of 1.9 mills $5.54/month $66.50/year
The other major source of library revenue, from the State of Ohio, has been significantly reduced. Since state budget cuts began in 2009, the library’s cumulative loss in state funding is more than $18 million. Meanwhile, annual revenue from the existing local property tax levy has declined by over $1 million due to reduced property value. This combination of reduced state and local funding translates to a 17% loss in overall annual revenue for the library.
This significant loss in annual revenue has caused us to reduce our operating budget in all areas, including over $2 million in personnel costs (now have 16% fewer employees than 2008). The budget for books, CDs, DVDs, and e-books has been reduced by $1 million. Replacement and upgrades of computer hardware and software have been delayed, as have repairs and maintenance of facilities. Finally, we reduced hours of operation by 15% in 2014.
The 0.5 mill increase is needed to restore areas of reduction and sustain library operations, including filling selected vacant positions to ensure appropriate staffing levels, restoring summer Sunday hours at Main Library and some weekday branch hours, and increasing purchasing of books, audio, video, and e-books. Additionally, the library will seek to address unmet community needs with this levy funding, such as providing digital devices for student use at branch libraries, free online 24/7 tutoring, homework help after school, and streaming media services.
If we are unable to pass this levy in 2015, in 2016 everything the library does will be drastically reduced. Without half of our funding, approximately half of library locations would close (9 branch libraries), with hours of operation significantly cut at remaining facilities. Approximately half of our staff, about 200 people, would lose their jobs. All of the programs and services we provide to the community would be curtailed, and some would be eliminated.
The Akron-Summit County Public Library is a key contributor to this area’s quality of life for residents of all ages. We need your support to sustain that role going forward. Voting for Issue 8 on May 5 will ensure that the library can continue to be an essential part of our community in the future.