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Vital Infrastructure, Especially in Troubled Times: Save Ohio Libraries

Daniel Dunkle of the Camden Herald Gazette makes a point about the importance of libraries in troubled economic times:

As the recession continues, local public libraries are seeing an increased need for their services. In some cases residents are coming in to polish up their resumes and use library computers to search for jobs. Others are using the library as a place to spend some time out of the house now that they are out of work.

“As the economy worsens, library usage tends to go up,” said Molly Larson, who serves as both president of the Maine Library Association and director of the Rockport Public Library. Larson said some residents are using libraries to learn computer skills that will allow them to get a job. Rockland Public Library Director Amy Levine said the library provided a display of books and resources for job seekers that was very popular.

That’s a news story from Maine; the story is the same in West Virginia:

Basically, the library has been a source of assistance in helping displaced workers assemble a résumé and land fresh employment, West Virginia Library Commission Director J.D. Waggoner told lawmakers Monday….

Waggoner told a joint meeting of the Standing Committees on Government Operations and Government Organization that jobless residents are getting help in finding work through the libraries.

One man dropped his children off at school every week and then checked into his local library to go online and look for work. Within two weeks, the man found employment, Waggoner said. “That story is repeating itself over and over again across the state,” he said.

Move further west to the state of Ohio and you’ll find that libraries here are also providing needed services to people who are out of work. At my local Northside branch of the Columbus Public Library, there are dedicated sessions held twice a week for job seekers; librarians not only provide computer resources necessary for Ohioans out of work to write up a resume, but also provide guidance on resume strategy and education on the use of job banks databases. Other regular events in libraries across the city of Columbus — like GED classes and technology workshops — are aimed to help build citizens’ human capital so they can do more and earn more with their time. These services help Ohio pull its way out of its current deep recession.

As I pointed out last week, libraries provide essential social infrastructure to the young as well. At this time of year, summer reading clubs are in full swing, encouraging the latest generation to tap into the enjoyment of learning. In poor areas, libraries are distribution points for food to hungry kids who would have poorer educational outcomes (translation for WSJ readers: lower productivity) were it not for this supplemental nutrition.

Finally, as disposable income declines, libraries across the nation are experiencing large surges in book circulation; people are rediscovering the frugality of literacy at a starkly reduced price. I describe the economic good sense of libraries as a “starkly reduced price,” not free, because someone has to pay for the buildings, the electricity, the staff and, oh yes, the books. Our nation’s public libraries provide reading, educational, food for poor kids and job training more cheaply than if we each did all that work ourselves, and those services continue to redound positively, but it costs some money to keep them going.

Here in Ohio, public libraries have already taken cuts to their funding in stride. State funding for public libraries in Ohio is allotted as a proportion of tax revenues, so that as tax revenues have declined the funding for libraries has declined, too. In 2008, when the economy here was bad but not so bad as it is now, libraries across the state were allotted $458 million. This year, with tax revenues tanking, libraries in Ohio have already taken a $98 million cut, down to $360 million. Keep that in mind — this year, Ohio public libraries have already suffered a 21.4% cut in state funding without a complaint.

Save Ohio Libraries Logo to Put on Your own WebpageBut last Friday (the day for news releases they don’t want you to hear), Governor Ted Strickland proposed cutting the state budget for public libraries by another $100 million. Strickland’s proposal would cut the libraries’ budgets disproportionately, singling them out for extra resource cuts beyond their share.

If this were an entertainment venue like a golf course or another new arena for a pampered professional team, I’d understand making another slash to the budget there. But these are libraries we’re talking about; they’re a vital piece of our social and economic infrastructure, providing services that help us get out of our slump. Ted Strickland proposing cuts to libraries as jobs leave Ohio is like the captain of a ship noticing the rudder’s broken and yelling for his first mate to cut some wood out of the hull to build a new one.

The window for comments to Governor Ted Strickland (call 614-466-3555) or to your legislator (find your member by zip code here) closes quickly — the public has less than a week left! As of July 1, 2009 the process, along with the fiscal year, will have already moved on. If you are an individual living in Ohio and you support your library, make yourself heard.

Fortunately, it’s not just an individual effort here. As George W. Bush learned during his presidency, you really don’t want to piss off the librarians. Across the state, advocates for libraries are passing out leaflets to patrons as they enter and leave their local branches. The brand spankin’ new activist website Save Ohio Libraries website indicates that pro-library rallies are happening tomorrow, Wednesday June 24 2009, at these sites:

Centerville: Centerville Public Library at 4:00 pm
Cleveland: Cleveland Public Library Main Branch at 10:30 am
Cincinnati: Loveland Branch Library at 11:00 am
London: London Public Library at 6:30 pm
Portsmouth: Portsmouth Public Library 1:00 pm

Those are just the Wednesday rallies. On Thursday, June 25 at 11:30 am, there will be a statewide Save Our Libraries rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The Statehouse stands on the corner of Broad and High Streets downtown. Gather at the McKinley Statue (near High Street), and wear a red t-shirt if you have one. Bring a sign, but don’t attach any sticks — the police will confiscate these as a security threat. Stick up a flyer if you have the time.

See the Ohio Library Council for continuing information about this fight for Ohio libraries’ future.

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