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Love Your Library? Local Director Says They Need Your Help

a photo of a library sign
Ellen Forsyth
Creative Commons/flickr
Portage County's District Library director says since the 2008 recession libraries have continued to work to help Ohioans find jobs, fight the opioid epidemic and bridge the digital divide. He's calling for a "meaningful restoration" of library funding.

Of Ohio's 251 public library systems, 50—including the Portage County District Library—rely solely on Ohio's Public Library Fund as their primary source of funding. Portage County District Library Director Jonathan Harris is raising concerns about the governor’s proposed budget, which he says will provide his system fewer dollars than they received two decades ago.

The state’s public library fund gets a percentage of general revenue. During the 2008 recession, the library fund saw a cut, from 2.22% to 1.66%, which has not been restored.

The governor’s current budget estimates the fund will get $430 million this year, but Harris says because it’s a percentage, it could be much less. “When there are downturns as far as the state’s economy, public libraries feel it pretty immediately,” Harris said.

The governor's current budget proposal keeps the percentage at 1.66 down close to 30% from pre-recession levels.

“Those numbers, even the projection for two years down the line, is less than public libraries were getting in 1999,” Harris said.

His library system, headquartered in Garrettsville, with branches in Aurora, Streetsboro, Windham and Randolph has been operating at reduced service for years. It had to close a branch in Brimfield in 2009 and a computer lab it operated in Deerfield.

The pandemic has led more users to access digital services, which are more expensive for the library to offer.

Library seeks more funding
As digital use increases, costs grow.
As of Friday, <a href="https://us.macmillan.com/">Macmillan Publishers Ltd.</a> is drastically restricting the sales of eBooks to libraries.

“Ebooks, emedia, audiobooks, anything streaming is something that libraries actually pay more than your average consumer for," Harris said. "One of the things we did have to put in place this last year because of the obvious budget cuts due to the pandemic was we did have to slash our collections budget by a pretty significant amount.”

Harris and his board are urging library supporters to ask state lawmakers for more funding (see statement below). The Ohio Library Council is urging a continuation of current funding which stands at 1.7%, but Harris says that merely supports the status quo.

In the meantime, Harris says his library district will have to do what many others have done—seek voter support for a tax levy to raise funds. He expects to put a 1-mil levy on the ballot in November. But historically, Portage County voters have not liked that idea. Harris says there have been attempts to pass a library levy at least 11 times since 1974. All have failed.

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.