Libraries ask public to contact lawmakers about cuts

SANDUSKY Erie County's five public libraries don't
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Erie County's five public libraries don't want to shelve service for their customers.

The directors of the county's libraries -- Sandusky, Huron, Bellevue, Ritter in Vermilion and Milan-Berlin Township -- met Tuesday at the Sandusky Library.

They pledged that if state cutbacks force them to close more often, they will stagger their hours of operation so at least one library in the county remains open every day.

"We're trying to figure out how we can work together as a group," said Julie Brooks, director of Sandusky Library.

All of the libraries belong to CLEVNET, the library network organized by Cleveland Public Library, and a library card for one works at all of the others.

The five directors said they are still shocked by Gov. Ted Strickland's proposal, offered only a few days before a new budget is supposed to take effect, to radically cut library funding.

Libraries in Erie County will lose $1.5 million if the Ohio General Assembly adopts Gov. Ted Strickland's proposal to cut about 50 percent of the state's funding for libraries.

Amanda Wurst, Strickland's spokeswoman, described the governor's proposal Monday as a 30 percent cut.

But the librarians said the governor's proposed 30 percent cut, coming on top of a scheduled 20 percent reduction in state funding for libraries, would mean a reduction of about 50 percent in state funding.

Local libraries outlined the resulting impact:

-- Brooks said her Sandusky Library board had an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss possible ways to cut $359,743 from the budget during the second half of 2009. That's in addition to the $194,882 the library had expected to cut this year, a total reduction of $564,625. The library's annual budget is about $3 million.

The library would shut down its branch in Castalia, end support for the Kelleys Island branch, eliminate all special events, shut down on Sunday and halt buying new books, she said.

The library's newsletter, Cover to Cover, has several pages detailing its book discussion groups, brown bag lectures and other events.

"Every single thing you see in there would stop July 1. That will allow us at least to keep another day of service going," Brooks said.

-- The Huron Public Library has an annual budget of $750,000 and faces the loss of $194,000 a year, said director Anne Hinton.

-- The Bellevue Public Library has an annual budget of about $1 million and would lose half of the $684,000 it gets every year from the state, said Molly Carver, the library director.

-- The Berlin Heights-Milan library would lose $200,000 a year under the governor's proposal.

-- Ritter Public Library officials in Vermilion did not have an immediate estimate on the impact of the governor's proposal, but director Janet Ford said the library has already lost 10 percent of its 2008 budget.

All five libraries have reacted by posting urgent messages to their Web sites, asking citizens to call, e-mail or fax their state legislators immediately. Huron's library is offering to fax letters to lawmakers, Hinton said.

Demand for library services has gone up during the recession from patrons who need free entertainment and help with state agencies as they cope with job losses or the loss of income, the library directors said. Many patrons say the library is their only source of Internet access for applying for jobs or unemployment compensation.

More men are turning up for children's programs in Berlin Heights and Milan, director William Rutger said.

"We've had a lot of fathers we've noticed who have been laid off who are coming with the kids," he said.