Sometimes this column can be bright and cheery, but the news this month and its impact on the library is very unhappy indeed.
I’ve shared before how your library is funded by tax dollars from the State’s General Revenue Fund. Those Public Library Fund (PLF) dollars equal approximately half of our revenue. Gov. Kasich’s proposed budget for July 2017 through June 2019 cuts the percentage allocated to libraries from 1.7% of the GRF to 1.66%. Bottom line, that translates into a $7 million cut to Ohio libraries for next year. 2019 funding levels look to be less than we got twenty years ago—and think of all the new services and technology required now that were unheard of in 1999.
We don’t yet know the percentage of impact on each county or on Massillon specifically, but are watching it closely. Librarians will descend on Columbus March 29th to meet with our representatives and senators and remind them that state funding is essential in the delivery of library services in our state and to urge them to keep the percentage at 1.7%. Public Libraries do not have the ability to raise local revenue through sales or income taxes, and do not receive casino revenue. (Again, we are *extremely* grateful that our forward-thinking voters understood that this threat to state funding was real, and passed an increase to our local property tax-based operating levy which will be a life-saver the next five years.)
What can you do? A call from YOU, a library user, to your representative in support of library funding would make much more impact than from someone employed here. Not sure which people represent you in Columbus? A great tool exists at https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislators/find-my-legislators, or you can call our Reference staff at 330-832-9831 ext. 312 and they will be glad to help!
But wait, that’s not all. Talk about getting hit from all sides; federal funds are also at risk. Public libraries don’t get direct federal dollars to operate, but proposed budget cuts recommended by the White House will defund programs at the State Library that do currently benefit YOU.
One proposed cut is the entire Institute for Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that oversees a grant program called LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act.) In Ohio, that translates into $5 million of funds at the State Library of Ohio that touch every community across the state.
The State Library of Ohio tells us that the following programs and services would be curtailed or significantly reduced if IMLS is defunded:
- Research databases would disappear (or would have to be funded at the local level). These are the high quality subscriptions that Ohioans now can access through their schools, colleges, or public libraries.
- Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled services supported by the State Library would be curtailed.
- Public libraries would not receive summer reading materials and summer reading workshops would no longer be subsidized.
- Ohio Digital Library, serving the patrons of 177 public libraries across the state, would no longer receive support from the State Library; member libraries would be required to pay a portion of the yearly software maintenance ($125,000). Yes, these are the ebooks we offer you through our catalog. We pay a share for the books themselves, but LSTA funded the software platform.
- Consulting services, such as strategic planning, space design, and youth services would be significantly reduced or eliminated.
- Library online staff training modules and leadership conferences would disappear.
- Competitive grants, by which MPL funded our computer training lab, would no longer exist.
I wish that were the only federal agency that benefits libraries that is facing the ax. But the White House also proposes eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, by which the Massillon Museum gets funding for the Big Read each year, a program that we actively support. Just last week we held the library’s first 2017 Big Read event, and 22 people came together to discuss a book (True Grit) and taste some western foods. Also on the chopping block is the National Endowment for the Humanities, through which the library received a grant to digitize the Thomas and Charity Rotch papers, and get them online. Scholars from across the country now can use the materials without traveling to Massillon.
Are these programs “essential” to society? We are now on the cusp of finding out. There’s an apocryphal story floating on the internet (that I mistakenly passed on until I realized it wasn’t confirmed anywhere, shame on me!) that Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort in Britain, and he responded “then what are we fighting for?” He might not have uttered those exact pithy words, but what he DID say before the war was that “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them…ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
Folks, we are long past the days when the arts (including literature) are widely revered by our society. But if you are reading this, I bet you’re a person who still does think they are essential to a society. Whatever your politics, this is a culture war unlike anything we have seen before.
What can you do? In this case, it’s so important that you contact your Representatives (Renacci or Gibbs, depending on where you live) and Senators Portman and Brown. Again, you can call our Reference staff, or look them up at:
Use your voice to let them know what YOU value, and what will be lost if we defund these programs: IMLS, NEA, NEH. I’m going to be doing that very thing as soon as I send off this article. I’ll keep you informed about these issues.
- Sherie Brown
Director, Massillon Public Library
Yes, I do have a book recommendation, and it fits right in with a Churchill quote! I just finished The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan. The ladies of a small British community in 1940 find fellowship and support each other by starting up a choir as they send all their husbands and sons to war. This book has everything—class distinctions being broken down, new opportunities for women, romance, German (?) spies, and babies switched at birth! But it also had death and misery, and really taught me something about the realities of the British home front, when it was very likely the Nazis would be invading as soon as they got through with France, bombs fell on homes, and every knock on the door could be a telegram with bad news. As a singer, I liked the hymn selections tying in with the story line. If you liked Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, you’ll like this one.