I’m certain Governor Strickland has had to make many difficult decisions in putting together a balanced state budget in this economy.
One of these decisions, though, I can’t stand by, and that is a draconian 50% funding cut to many of Ohio’s public libraries. This measure would take effect on July 1 and could force up to 70% of these already struggling libraries to shut their doors or to drastically reduce services.
As a brand new resident of Cleveland, I have now inhabited all three of Ohio’s major metropolitan areas: I received my K-12 education in Columbus, my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Cincinnati, and will get my PhD in Cleveland. My graduate work has been funded in part by the Ohio Board of Regents. I am extremely proud that I was able to get nothing short of a world-class education entirely in my home state. Wherever I have lived, I have relied on public libraries to provide the materials I need to be an effective scholar, musician, student, and–perhaps most importantly–educator. Just this past week, I used CDs and DVDs checked out from a branch of the Cincinnati public library to teach a summer music class to students in grades 4-12.
I can probably still manage for the next couple of years, as I will have academic libraries at my disposal that will meet most of my personal needs. (Although we apparently still need to stand up for academic libraries in this state, too! Take nothing for granted!) Most of my friends and neighbors, however, will not be so fortunate if this funding cut takes place.
I have often decried the fact that libraries seem to have become nothing more than a place to check your e-mail (I was extremely irritated when the main library in Cincinnati moved much of their collection into closed stacks to make way for a bigger computer lab). I recognize, however, that internet access is a vital utility that many have come to rely on libraries to provide: elderly people communicating with far-away family, low-income students who need to do homework or keep up with friends, and the state’s steadily growing number of job seekers. (And let’s not add librarians themselves to the ranks of the unemployed!)
Ohio’s public library system is phenomenal. And you don’t have to take my word for it: just look at Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings. The top 10 for major metropolitan areas includes Columbus (#1), Cuyahoga (#2), and Cincinnati (#10). The top 10 in every other population category includes at least one Ohio library! Clearly, these libraries cannot operate to the same standard on a fraction of the funding–in fact, funding levels are one of the criteria that HAPLR uses to rank libraries. It might take years for our state’s libraries to recoup the losses, if rebuilding is possible at all.
Ohio has already struggled for years with brain drain, and closing our local libraries will certainly not help this. Already, nearly 60% of Ohio’s college students say they plan to leave the state after graduation. And I don’t think an economic crisis is a good time to be chasing Ohioans with advanced degrees out of the state.
Please contact Governor Strickland and your other state representatives and voice your concern.