Ohio Libraries and Fiscal Amputation

Well, this is lovely. Follow: About 70% of Ohio’s public libraries are not funded locally but are funded by something called the Public Library Fund, which is part of the state budget (specifically, 2.2% of state’s tax revenue). The State of Ohio needs to find a way to see it’s way clear of a $3.2 billion shortfall for the next budget. Part of the governor’s proposal to do that: Cut the Public Library Fund by 30% over the next two years.

When this is added on top of an additional 20% decline in the Public Library Fund due to reduction in tax revenues collected (because people are, you know, poorer these days), this means that the large majority of Ohio’s public libraries could see their operating budgets cut in half in the next couple of years. This would almost certainly lead to a number of libraries closing, or substantially cutting back their services and staffing. This is, of course, during a time when libraries are seeing a spike in usage, because rumor is there’s a recession going on, and that’s the time people use their local libraries.

Budget-slashing moments are always painful and everybody squawks when their money gets slashed, and in times like these, I’m not one of those people who demands every public service be exactly at the same level it was before. I understand some things are going to get cut and that I’m going to lose some things my taxes paid for before. That’s life in a bad economy. That said, tweaking the state budget so that libraries end up losing half their funding seems like really dumb thing to do. Despite the occasional spittle I see flung by ignorants, it’s not as if our libraries are lavishly funded, or that the people working in them have nothing to do — libraries and librarians are used to making do with relatively little. But there’s a point at which “little” becomes “simply not enough,” and I would expect that getting one’s budget halved will get them there pretty efficiently.

If you’re an Ohioan, do your local library a favor and ping your local representative and tell him or her that you don’t support such a drastic cut in the Public Library Fund (You can find your House rep here, and your state senator here). They’ve got to decide on a budget this week, so the sooner the better. What I’m going to tell my own reps is that while I get that everyone has to share the pain, there’s pain and then there’s amputation, and this is amputation. I’d like to walk it back to pain, if that’s at all possible.

61 thoughts on “Ohio Libraries and Fiscal Amputation

  1. This becomes especially troubling if no one else is experiencing those sorts of cuts. If Parks and Rec, for example, is only seeing 5% reductions, it makes the 30% Library reduction look much more politically motivated and anti-education.

  2. Or better yet, support your local libraries locally, instead of reliance on state funding, where the extra layer of bureaucracy sucks dollars out that could have been spent on actual libraries.

    Of course, that would require political will to actually reduce the size of government, and there’s no desire for that on either side of the political spectrum these days.

  3. I live in Cincinnati – our public library system in Hamilton county has the highest circulation rate of any library in the country. On top of that, Ohioans check out more books from the library per person than people from any other state.

    Finding out that the state was planning on decreasing library funding really surprised me, when taken with those facts. Thanks for the info on how to contact our representatives. I understand that there have to be cuts, but it seems like libraries and higher education are taking a disproportionate hit.

  4. Skip:

    “Or better yet, support your local libraries locally, instead of reliance on state funding, where the extra layer of bureaucracy sucks dollars out that could have been spent on actual libraries.”

    As the libraries in question are directly funded by the state without intermediary, there is no “extra layer of bureaucracy” involved. It should also be noted that many if not most of the 30% of libraries in Ohio funded at the local level are also having substantial budget issues as well; vomiting up generic anti-government blather really is neither here nor there on this particular subject.

    Skip, I know you have the urge to jerk your knee reflexively on the subject of the government, but the problem with knee jerk reactions is that they often make the knee-jerker look stupid.

  5. I do have another suggestion for you Ohioans – when you call your representatives about this, make sure and have ideas on what else they could cut instead. Based on the articles, it sounds like $227m in cuts need to be found.

  6. What really irritates me is that not only do they want to cut funding, but they expect us to keep functioning as if we still had the same budget. As if we can afford to keep buying all these books (movies/audio books/music/magazines/etc) when you’re cutting the budget. Plus, these cuts mean staff cuts, which means less time for programming because we’re doing twice as much work. But we can’t cut back on anything, because we have to pretend that nothing’s wrong! And if we complain, too bad (or as my director says: stop buying all those reference books, no one uses them anyway, right?).

    Yes, I am a pissed off librarian. At a time when libraries are being used more and more, funding is being cut more and more. There’s no logic.

  7. Do the libraries in Ohio have Boards of Trustees charged to look out for them? Although the Trustees of libraries are probably already on your side, it couldn’t hurt to get in touch with them as well and let them know your support for library funding. One of the things that helps us every year is the support we get from the public, which we bring to the Selectmen when the library budget is being determined for the next fiscal year. (I speak as an elected Trustee of the Public Library of Brookline, MA.)

    One of the aspects of the recession that is frustrating is that municipalities are cutting funds to libraries at the same time that more and more people are flocking to their libraries for the resources they provide. Our own materials budget got cut and we’re in a hiring freeze. I wish you good luck in Ohio.

  8. Strickland (Ohio’s governor) is also looking to cut the amount the state pays into the public employee’s retirement fund by almost half, cut the number of state jobs by an undisclosed number and has made most state employees take a 2 week unpaid leave. This is on top of regular raises in the amount employees pay for their insurance (which keeps getting worse in terms of what it covers) and on again-off again pay freezes that have been going on for the last eight years or so. What this means is that many of the brightest minds in state service are leaving to work in the private sector and those that are left are swamped with more work than is possible to handle. Businesses looking to set up shop in Ohio are having to wait extended periods to get the permits needed to operate in the state (sometimes years) and are therefore looking for other places to locate. Meanwhile, many of the ideas being put forward to raise extra capital are being overlooked (like eliminating excessive management in some agencies and increasing the tipping fees at landfills by one dollar per ton) in favor of schemes like state run gambling machines. Yeah, the library thing sucks. But taken in context it is the least of our problems. Besides, libraries are more likely to receive monetary support from their local communities, unlike less popular agencies such as the Department of Development or the Ohio EPA.

  9. Thomas:

    “Yeah, the library thing sucks. But taken in context it is the least of our problems.”

    Well, no, not really. I understand you believe there are other things that are more significant, but this doesn’t mean this particular line item is not important. This isn’t an “either/or” situation, where you have to stab the libraries through the heart to save some other part of the system. As noted, there’s pain all around. The question is whether it is as equitably distributed as possible with an eye toward the benefit of the tax payer, not necessarily state employees. Sorry.

    Also, I have to tell you that a significant number of people who visit this blog would see the effect of people leaving government jobs for private sector jobs as a feature rather than a bug.

    “Besides, libraries are more likely to receive monetary support from their local communities”

    What part of “70% of Ohio’s public libraries are directly funded by the state” is confusing you here? A local bake sale isn’t going to make a huge difference when an entire budget is being slashed in half.

  10. One of the problems with reliance on local funding for libraries is that it means that libraries in towns with poorer populations would quite naturally tend to be much more poorly funded. Which is totally bass-ackwards if one believes that part of the purpose of a library is to provide access to books (& etc) to those who might not otherwise have access.

    And oh yes, it’s worth pointing out that this is a mere shadow of the same self-perpetuating dynamic that’s at work because a significant amount of public school funding comes from local property taxes. (There’s your damn “culture of failure”.)

  11. Skip’s reaction isn’t a knee-jerk reaction at all, John. It’s a reasonable answer – eliminate the middleman to reduce costs. Economically, it’s sound advice. There is a bureaucracy charged with delivering the tax monies back to the libraries – maybe it’s not much in cost, but if they’re cutting out 30% of our budgets, the system itself should be examined and if possible, removed. However, we’re currently stuck in this situation and once the government takes on a role, it rarely (ever?) gives it up.

    Getting a local library issue onto the ballot when the libraries are often run by the school system is often problematic. School boards want money for the schools – the library is secondary. We have schools in our county that have had levies go down 7-10 times in less than 10 years. Are they going to support a library levy in direct competition on a ballot?

    So, yes, John, you’re right too.

    On the ground level, in a recession, library usage skyrockets. Hopefully, that means all those people who are skipping the bookstore/movie rental in favor of the library will remember that come November.

    Direct donations to a library can’t hurt. Our local library always has a “tip jar” out to collect funds for small improvements and various fundraisers for big.

    In the meantime, Mr. Strickland’s office number is 614-466-3555. Amusingly, the secretary I spoke with didn’t ask my opinion, just said “I’ll tell the governor you disapprove of the cuts.”

  12. John Scalzi: Also, I have to tell you that a significant number of people who visit this blog would see the effect of people leaving government jobs for private sector jobs as a feature rather than a bug.

    Which just goes to show how blinded some people can be by ideology. Even if one is a firm believer in small government, encouraging the conditions such that “the brightest minds” in government leave is just as dumb as trying to save a company by laying off the smartest part of the workforce.

    Anybody who wants a good smaller government needs to realize that a ham-handed “starve the beast” approach simply concentrates the stupid. It makes for great talk radio, but crappy real-world results.

  13. When the economy is down people turn to there local library more too.

    I visit 3 libraries and all 3 of them are more crowed have less available material and the librarians are generally busier because of the new influx of people.

  14. Places like Seattle are closing completely to deal with budget problems (http://bit.ly/NU7BO). While I emphasize with Sarah@11, I do think there is a rising tide of librarians coming to the “OK, you are going to get what you are paying for” mode of thinking. Over the last five years, here in Michigan, we have overseen a constantly shrinking budget, personnel cuts every year, and an effective freeze on collection budgets, which translates to a shrinking collection (do you replace or buy new material?).
    Newspaper subscriptions are being cut (well, they are dying out, so I am taking a soaking on a few), and some periodical subscriptions are going through the roof. Hard times indeed. I am strongly advocating for a service time cut the next time the budget is raised so we can at least do more in the time we are open than not.

  15. “Or better yet, support your local libraries locally, instead of reliance on state funding, where the extra layer of bureaucracy sucks dollars out that could have been spent on actual libraries.”

    In many places libraries operate at least in part on a dedicated local mil levy (property tax) the proceeds from which of course decline in down times. And external Library Foundations that support their local library are hunkering down to conserve capital because of the market declines, meaning they’re not only not boosting their supplemental funding, but often cutting it or ceasing it until their capital bases recover. Plus the state budget cuts.

    Not to mention a structural problem inherent to many public libraries — with public safety and infrastructure being higher priorities in public budgets, in good times libraries see smaller budget increases than the general budget increase, and in lean times take bigger cuts than the the general budget does. So there’s a near-permanent downward-ratcheting effect on library budgets versus general government budgets as a share of public spending.

    And, of course, in down times libraries see major spikes in usage. My local is up 25%+ since this time last year in circulation and usage, and even farther up in public internet access, which boost is almost entirely job-seeking and benefit-checking related to unemployment.

    Lastly, for many public libraries there isn’t really such a thing as direct cash donations. If you give them cash, it often gets grabbed off by higher levels of government by the arbitrary imposition of offsetting budget cuts. Which is why we have separate library foundations to funnel giving through, but see above.

    It all depends on how your local library is funded, but it’s tough times for libraries from almost any angle right now, exacerbated by the usage spiking.

  16. John, I think you missed my point. My fault because I wasn’t clear, I guess. The state government is the extra level of bureaucracy. As I read it, the way Ohio implements things is that there’s a transfer from the state general funds to a specific fund for libraries, which then doles it back out to individual libraries. So the money flows:

    Individual and corporate taxpayer to state tax agency
    state tax agency to state general fund
    state general fund to specific library fund
    library fund to individual libraries

    At every step the management costs money. My suggestion was simply to make it local, giving you:

    Individual and corporate taxpayer to local tax agency
    local tax agency to local general fund
    local general fund to individual libraries

    That’s one fewer transmission point, which will save money. And it has the benefit of allowing localities to determine for themselves the quality of the library they want to pay for.

    By the way, according to the articles I read, it isn’t that 30% of the libraries are funded entirely at the local level. None of them are. It’s simply that those libraries are supplementing the state funds with additional ones. All of them are at least partially funded at the state.

  17. I am a member of several “Friends of the Library” (I have cards to 10+ library systems). I donate money and books to the FOTL, I volunteer at their bookstores and at their library sales. Libraries also use volunteers to shelve books and repair them. Robust FOTL organizations can raise significant amounts of money. It’s not enough to make up a 30% cut, but it does help. So I hope some of you make the effort and volunteer at your local library.

    I am torn about the lobbying thing even though I am very passionate about libraries. Here in California, the most politically dysfunctional state in the US, we are slashing healthcare for the poor and aid for the poor and money for education. So asking for money for the library means more slashing in those areas.

  18. Yeah, as another California resident, it’s hard to take a 30% library cut seriously. There’s talk of closing the bulk of our state parks!

    My home city is finally building a real library after a decade+ long fight. Sadly, just as they get the thing built, the city is facing the first deficit in living memory.

    The general probably with budgeting is that everyone squawks when their own favorite program is cut, but no one makes concrete suggestions about what other thing might be cut instead. Rather, people just make generic demands to “cut bureaucracy” (without ever being able to point to the amount it would save) or “cut waste” (without being able to point to anything remotely in the same financial league.) Our own beloved Governator ran on a platform of “opening da books” to find all the waste in order to fix the budget. You can guess how that went.

  19. Scalzi:

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the size of the funding cuts for libraries and I’m not looking to stab them through the heart. I was mainly trying to illustrate how they are not the only bad budget decisions that are being made here in our state. And when I mention that libraries are more likely to be funded by the community I am not talking about bake sales, I’m talking about municipal funding. While I understand that municipalities are under a great strain financially, I still believe it is possible that citizens of an area are more likely to divert some of their tax revenue to libraries rather than lose them. For instance, the Piqua library just down the road has been supported time and again by local residents in a town where median income and educational levels are often below average.

    While I wasn’t specifically trying to make a point about state employees – just trying to show how bad budget decisions are being made all over – I do think that keeping an eye toward the benefit of state employees is keeping an eye on the benefit to tax payer. In addition to what Bearpaw says @17, government workers in this state make up around 15% of the overall workforce and by cutting their income or eliminating their positions it has a noticeable impact on the revenue that local government collects and the amount of money being spent in the local economy.

    And even though I am more likely to donate to my local library than my local Soil and Water District, I’m still going to worry about something like my drinking water supply more than my access to entertainment.

  20. “Also, I have to tell you that a significant number of people who visit this blog would see the effect of people leaving government jobs for private sector jobs as a feature rather than a bug.”

    Very correct. No government agency has the “we need to do well so we can make money so we can improve our produnt or sevice and continue to grow” mindset that private industry does. That’s why government employment has become so well-compensated (relatively).

    Now, it did have to offer competitive wages, in order to attract and keep the best and brightest but the best and brightest usually leave because they think they can do better elsewhere, and probably will.

    John and others make very good points: Call your local and state reps, make your view known, and offering suggestions is not bad either. Citizenship is not a spectator sport.

    As for my uninformed opinion about the Public Library Fund: You live in a nice community, and pay taxes to do so, you should have a say in how well-funded your local branch of the library is, having some bureaucrat at the state level dole out the funding is the price of “fairness”.

  21. Ouch that hurts and that seems very disproportionate indeed. Such is life at libraries. I’ll just spare you the rant that has been building for a few years now about budgets, libraries and how things are often not valued highly enough until they are gone. Nope not going there I’ll stop now.

  22. Oh, the irony.

    By posing with their favorite books, the Governor and Mrs. Strickland demonstrate their commitment to reading and their appreciation of libraries.

  23. Since I’m already on a tear, let me add that it’s a shame that it takes a huge fiscal crisis to get people to pay attention to where their taxes go, but maybe we’ll all be more involved from now on.

  24. One side comment: People use public libraries in good times and bad–most public libraries saw growth in use even during the boom. But they see even more growth–and more absolutely essential use–during lean times.

    As for the one comment that seems to label public libraries as “entertainment”…if you’ve been laid off and are seeking resources for job-hunting, if you’re trying to make sure your kids become readers, if you’re trying to educate yourself, I suppose you could call all of that “entertainment,” but I sure wouldn’t. (Not that there’s anything wrong with entertainment either–most of us do need down time too.

  25. John, did you receive an email from your local library about this proposed budget cut? I ask because the Cuyahoga County Public Library system sent one to me. In the time that it took me to compose my emails to my state senator and house representative, I received three emails from friends encouraging me to contact my legislators about this proposal. Then I saw the post on your blog. All in all, the word is getting out to the right people (those being the ones who will actually contact their legislators).

  26. @ Thomas #25,
    The last time our state had a major fiscal crisis was in the beginning of the 90s, when all the Japanese chickens came home to roost (we rely heavily on tourism from the Far East — or is that West?) Tourism dropped and so did the revenues. Budgets were slashed, positions cut or frozen, and the first thing that was suggested was to lay off everyone with less than 2 years seniority in the state-wide library system.

    Here it is 15 years later and we apparently haven’t learned anything about what the public needs during a recession. But at this point, we haven’t yet regenerated completely from the last budget crunch. Now, rather than laying off people and trimming the budget, we are looking at eliminating services and closing libraries, in addition to all the aforementioned. There comes a point when a person is slowly starving where they stop burning fat and start losing muscle mass; this makes it that much harder to recover if the chance arises. Many libraries across the US are at this point, if they haven’t already passed it.

  27. The ironic thing about Ohio funding for libraries is that it was negotiated as a fixed percentage of the proceeds of state tax collections with the idea that if times are good, libraries got more, if they were bad, they’d get less, but that there would be no need to lobby or fight for it every two years on the state’s biennial budget calendar. Libraries would just take what they were given based on theAm money in the state coffers.

    But this is a double whammy: the money set aside for libraries is down 18% already and most likely will be more as taxes are collected. Then, on top of that, the governor’s budget imposes a 30% cut on everyone, forgetting that libraries already took their cut. And…it was announced just a couple of days ago with the budget required to be approved by the end of the month. Seems sneaky and out of proportion…or maybe someone on the staff just forgot about the special situation.

    As far as it taking staff to administer. It’s a straight percentage which goes to counties by applying a formula which takes into account helping out poorer counties. Then, if there’s more than one library in a county, it’s further divided by a formula. There’s no significant overhead here. It’s all done by formulas.

  28. “Very correct. No government agency has the “we need to do well so we can make money so we can improve our produnt or sevice and continue to grow” mindset that private industry does. That’s why government employment has become so well-compensated (relatively)”

    CITATION NEEDED! In my particular field of work people in the public sector on average earn far less than those operating in the private sector. I work for the Government not for the money but because I believe in the ability of the government to improve the life of the average citizen. I could make far more working for a small business or corporation.

  29. Skip:
    “John, I think you missed my point. My fault because I wasn’t clear, I guess. The state government is the extra level of bureaucracy. As I read it, the way Ohio implements things is that there’s a transfer from the state general funds to a specific fund for libraries, which then doles it back out to individual libraries. So the money flows:

    Individual and corporate taxpayer to state tax agency
    state tax agency to state general fund
    state general fund to specific library fund
    library fund to individual libraries

    At every step the management costs money. My suggestion was simply to make it local, giving you:

    Individual and corporate taxpayer to local tax agency
    local tax agency to local general fund
    local general fund to individual libraries

    That’s one fewer transmission point, which will save money. And it has the benefit of allowing localities to determine for themselves the quality of the library they want to pay for.”
    This is a recipe for having great libraries with new books, state of the art computers and amazing services in rich communities and awful libraries with old books, out of date computers and no services in poor communities. Way to limit social mobility and protect entrenched interests friend. It is thinking like this that has led to the US having very poor social mobility as compared to Europe and Canada.

  30. What Mitchell Rowe said @33. In my (past) personal experience and the current experience of government workers I personally know, the thought of being “well-compensated” in government service is darkly amusing. Add to that the outdated equipment and inadequate supply of same, and the unending overblown assumptions of “government waste” from its use as a convenient political tool.

    I’ve worked for a state government, corporations, and non-profits. Near as I can tell, the corporations have been by far the most wasteful, not that much of that tends to be “wasted” on the front-line staff.

    In any case, any organization is going to have waste — think of it as the organizational equivalent of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The trick is to minimize the waste while still accomplishing whatever it is you’re trying to do. Bleeding the patient is a stupidly medieval approach, whether you’re dealing with a person or an organization of people.

  31. “Very correct. No government agency has the “we need to do well so we can make money so we can improve our product or service and continue to grow” mindset that private industry does. That’s why government employment has become so well-compensated (relatively)”

    For many corporations in the US it is more like “We need to sucker the stockholders into thinking we are doing well so that the options we voted ourselves are worth more when we bail out with and take the golden parachute our golfing buddies on the board voted us. Lets take some actions that, while dooming our company in the long run, look good on paper for a short stock boost.”

    The big troubles with a lot of arguments based on the idea of the “free market” is that it confuses the company with the people who run the company. It assumes that the people who run the company will do what is best for the company. In fact, a lot of people who run companies are much more interested in doing what is good for themselves, personally. This is very often *not* aligned with the company’s interests.

    A very typical instance of this is to cut salaries and/or layoff higher paid people in order to make yourself look more profitable. This boosts stock price and lets the execs cash in their options at a higher price. It also means that the company’s work force is crappier (because other companies outcompete them for the better people) and therefore hurts the long term prospects of the company.

  32. Steve Burnap said: Yeah, as another California resident, it’s hard to take a 30% library cut seriously. There’s talk of closing the bulk of our state parks!

    Well, take THIS seriously, Steve. That 30% is on top of a more than 20% cut already in place. Libraries in Ohio will not just stop buying DVD’s, THEY WILL HAVE TO CLOSE. DOWN. COMPLETELY. And they will close all over the state. Sorry about your state parks California, that’s certainly a shame, but we are talking LIBRARIES here.

  33. Kelly: The reason that budgets are screwed up in general is that everyone talks about “the libraries” or “the parks” or whatever, but no one looks at the overall numbers as a whole. It is one thing to say that library budgets should not be cut. It is quite another to put out what other thing should be cut instead. (I mean in specifics, not with generalized blather about “waste”.)

    What should get the ax instead? Cops? Teachers? Firefighters? Road maintenance? Prisons? I’m not trying to be facetious here…one of the things that is absolutely destroying my state is the way the public screams bloody murder when any cuts happen while refusing to raise taxes. Everyone runs around saying “no, not *this* program, it is too important!” completely ignoring that if *this* program is left untouched than *that* program will get it worse.

    Ohio probably has it lucky…here in California, voter refusals to cut services get turned into law via the proposition system.

    I have no idea about the exact situation in Ohio, but I think if someone wants to save the library budget, they ought to be willing to propose what gets cut instead, or where taxes will be raised to pay for it.

  34. Steve Burnap @ 40: I’m not trying to be facetious here…one of the things that is absolutely destroying my state is the way the public screams bloody murder when any cuts happen while refusing to raise taxes.

    Ohio probably has it lucky…here in California, voter refusals to cut services get turned into law via the proposition system.

    If I understand correctly, the problem is made much worse by the fact that a proposition can pass with a bare majority of voters, but it takes a two-thirds majority of voters to raise taxes.

    Man, that’s just begging for trouble.

  35. Here’s a fun fact: The Football Hall of Fame sees NO REDUCTION in its funding in this budget. My suggestion: CLOSE IT DOWN. There ya go, Steve.

  36. Um, the Football Hall of Fame charges directly; libraries are paid for via taxes and donations.

    We have the same problem in Pennsylvania, where (I think) libraries are generally funded on the county level. Allegheny County had long ago designated some of the sales tax for arts funding. Since fewer people are buying things, less sales taxes are collected.

    I know they’ve been threatening to close down the library in my home town up in Massachusetts as well.

    *sigh*

  37. #35. Mitchell, I don’t mean to insult any governemnt employee, I may soon become one. State and local may be different, I am referring to what I know from my Federal counterparts. Generally speaking, with a government job, once you’re in, you’re in for life. The first hired-last fired principle adds to that security. Pension, health-care, savings-plan, part of the compensation package, and often a COLA-related wage increase whether you work harder than the next guy or show up breathing. What I mean to say is that the governemnt budgeting process does not have to weigh profit in its funding equation, so it has a different atitude towards its personnel practices.

    Don’t get me wrong, a lot of GS workers are working hard in necessary jobs, many in jobs that have no private sector counterpart, BUT those jobs are in many ways recession proof. Those who are willing to go into the private sector have a greater risk and reward ratio.

    #38. Steve, I won’t argue that there hasn’t been a lot of misuse of the free-market and employment, but as we now see, eventually, a non-profitable business model fails. Barring an ill-advised government bailout, those who are left are encouraged to do the right thing in their next business venture. You make a good your point at #40, officials should be more specific, rather thna “the parks” WHICH parks? As well as your question here:

    “What should get the ax instead? Cops? Teachers? Firefighters? Road maintenance? Prisons? ”

    It goes to the hear t of the matter; what is the government’s role at any level?

    It ties into my reponse to #35 above, government has a hard time prioritizing, because the voters have a hard time prioritizing.
    Revenue is x amount, what is “must do” and what is “could do”?
    Some states, California is one, that had increases in revenue for years in a boom economy, and got used to spending like the good times would never end.

  38. As a library professional myself, I couldn’t imagine what we’d do with such a drastic cut in funding. We’re up in volume an average of 30%+ from the last two years. To do the same or more with so much less is unthinkable.

  39. Library hours always get threatened first. But I’ve never really understood what the discretionary operating cost of a library is — but I imagine it’s pretty small — once you take into account employee salaries, real estate and utilities, small budget cuts can have a huge impact. I mean, what’s really to cut on the margin? Acquisitions (which could be stretched out), subscriptions (which can be thinned a bit), some computer services. Even operating hours changes don’t yield that much margin in the budget. After that, any cuts mean closing branches big time. There’s just no “fat” in these budgets that can be readily trimmed without big service cuts.

    It’s dreadful, of course, but the politicians sure like to make cuts where they are most visible to the public. I joked with my wife a while back that Sacramento was going to threaten to start shooting kittens if the voters didn’t approve a series of ballot initiatives out here. Lo and behold, the state is apparently going to shorten the life span of state-run shelter animals from 5 to 3 days.

  40. How timely. The copy of “Zoe’s Tale” I put on hold months ago finally showed up today. I’ve cleared my schedule, natch.

    OK, I’m not even working, it just sounded good.

    My local library had its budget cut by $165,000 at the last town meeting, yet it’s packed lately. They’ve cut hours and eliminated two open positions. No layoffs, so far. I guess Massachusetts libraries are city/town-funded but I’m not sure if they get any state/federal money. Massachusetts is is better shape than California, but not by much. Sales tax is going up and previously-untaxed merch will no longer be exempt.

    As a California expat I am SO glad we don’t have that idiotic proposition system here and you don’t have pages of pressure-group bullshit on the ballot. Prop 13 was a disaster. In the last election we had one “question” (as they’re called here) of three on eliminating the state income tax, which miserably failed 70-30. All you have to do is drive to the great live-free-or-die state of New Hamshah with its shitty roads and shitty schools to see what would be exponentially-worse in MA given we have about 6x the population of NH.

  41. “All you have to do is drive to the great live-free-or-die state of New Hamshah with its shitty roads and shitty schools to see what would be exponentially-worse ”

    Many MA. residents do drive those roads in order to buy things without the high MA state sales tax.

    The roads in MA are nothing to brag about, either.

  42. “Generally speaking, with a government job, once you’re in, you’re in for life. The first hired-last fired principle adds to that security. Pension, health-care, savings-plan, part of the compensation package, and often a COLA-related wage increase whether you work harder than the next guy or show up breathing.” ~~Rob

    As a government employee, very few of us come to work expecting to be as well compensated as the private sector. We traded off the smaller paychecks for more security and benefits. Sometimes we do it because we actually like our jobs teaching, or as public librarians, social workers, park rangers, or whatnot, and are trying to make a difference. In recent years our benefit packages have been adjusted downwards, as budgets are starting to absorb retiring baby boomers. Now the institutions where we work are getting chopped, and jobs are vanishing. It’s just as scary as in the private sector.

  43. In California, Arnold is talking about punishing us taxpayers for not passing his resolutions by closing all state parks. State parks are a tiny sliver of the state budget, but it’s a great way to punish the voters. Sounds like the govenor of Ohio has essentially the same plan.

  44. I have to side with Kelly @42 on this one. I remember about 10 years ago when Hamilton County poured all that money into Cinergy Stadium:

    http://cincinnati.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/1997/08/04/tidbits.html

    Granted, the times and particular branch of government involved were different. But once again we see skewed priorities: Cut libraries by 30% statewide—but don’t touch the Football Hall of Fame in Canton. (I hadn’t known that the Pro Football Hall of Fame was state-funded. Do we really need to publicly subsidize football at all?)

    Also, those of us who are economic conservatives have to remember that there are some things that government really does do better. I don’t want to see the government running General Motors or Citigroup. But strong public schools and publicly funded libraries are as American as apple pie.

    Moreover, while many branches of government *are* wasteful, most libraries operate lean and mean. I visit my local library every week, and I have yet to see a librarian on a coffee break. Nor do my librarians drive to work in Lexuses.

  45. Here in Nebraska, the libraries are locally funded, with a state Library Commission that provides some services like databases and training that can be best negotiated or presented from a single statewide entity. But the majority of the services, and all of the budget, is local.

    My particular hometown likes to pride itself on its school system, but we still had to vote 3 or 4 times on a school levy to make some necessary updates. The library levy, on the other hand, passed easily on the first vote. Yes, it was bundled with a couple of other things in terms of overall community service upgrades, but the levy was mainly to expand the library building.

    But then again, we are a growing county/city in Nebraska. I’m sure if you talked to some of the more rural counties/communities that are bleeding population, they’d have a different story to tell. Local funding is great when there’s support and it works, but it’s also a trap when you’re in a downward financial spiral, as most of the country is right now.

    this is clearly preaching to the choir on a blog like this, but i’d absolutely cut parks and recreation services before libraries. Just like I’d cut out the travel and convention bureau before I’d cut the schools or fire department. All of those services are nice (and I know, I know, cutting tourism just increases the loss of jobs, etc), but there’s nice to have and there’s essential public services. Free or low-cost access to information is an essential public service.

  46. “Local funding” is a dogwhistle for “screw those loser poor people who aren’t Good Upstanding Taxpayers, like me”.

    Yeah, as another California resident, it’s hard to take a 30% library cut seriously.

    Uh, as a California resident, I would take a 30% library cut very seriously indeed. Perhaps you’re all snuggly at home with your broadband and your printer and your walls of books, but not every Californian has those things – or can afford those things. Yes, of course we are facing all kinds of horrible cuts, but I truly, really don’t understand this one-upsmanship of “you think THAT’s bad….”

  47. I think someone also needs to point out to these Buckeye reps that this move is just another in a long line of making their state less attractive. I feel like Ohio has been making itself less and less attractive to business, at exactly a time when a state should be making itself more so – a little research suggests that between the 70s and today, Ohio went from being low-tax and business-friendly to being high-tax and in the bottom 5 in terms of business-friendliness.

    Not that I’m a small-government, pro-business zealot, but I would think that being in the bottom five would be a wake up call that maybe we should get out of the bottom if we want to see some job creation.

    So maybe instead of cutting the library they could ask themselves, what exactly is it that we do that bothers employers so much? Maybe they’ll find something better to cut in the answer to that question.

  48. “Many MA. residents do drive those roads in order to buy things without the high MA state sales tax.
    The roads in MA are nothing to brag about, either.”

    Latter: OK, you got me.

    Former: “high” tax… right. MA sales tax is 5%, lower than most. But yeah, for some thing e.g. smokes I would make the drive to Salem NH (over their shitty roads) to save $25 on a carton, but now I just make my own.

    True story: former cow-orker decided he was fed up with “Taxachusetts” so he moved just over the NH line. His property tax more than doubled, he still had to pay MA income tax as a non-resident employed in MA, and now he gets to pay for private school because the public one is shitty and broke. WIN!

  49. mythago@54: If given a choice between library cuts and cuts to children’s health care programs (as are being bandied about in California) which would you choose?

    Should poor kids in Oakland have access to awesome libraries? Of course! Do we give awesome libraries for poor kids in Oakland priority over decent health care for poor kids in Oakland, or good education for poor kids in Oakland, or safe streets for poor kids in Oakland etc, etc? I am not so sure…

    That’s the thing: you can’t budget by saying “This thing is good…it must not be cut!!” That thinking is why California’s budget is screwed up. You must budget by saying “This has priority over that”.

    Kelly@42: If I were in Ohio, I’d be all for that. But would the savings be enough to prevent library cuts?

  50. I live in Ohio and I probably go to the library at twice a week; some weeks it’s three or four times. I’m blessed to (currently) have a library in walking distance.

    That may not be the case soon :(

    I guess I wonder something too (and it’s probably a stupid question):

    If a branch closes, what happens to all the books there? Do they sell them or disburse them to other branches?

  51. Dara

    I think it depends on whether the library expects to re-open.

    If the closing library is part of a system, the assets would be disbursed to other libraries or stored until reopening.

    If the library is expected to close permanently, it would be up to the local governing body. Probably the shelving and equipment would be sold, maybe the books in a massive open to the public or perhaps in lots as an auction.

    Any way you look at it, it would a sad, sad thing.

  52. Of course we should cut the budget for libraries. Everyone gripes about the state of education in the US. It’s not like libraries are used for anything like education. They are just recycled trees with strange markings made on the material. If only the politicians knew how to use these strange markings to communicate wisdom and knowledge we would have lawmakers making educated decisions about these strange places called libraries. If only someone would teach politicians to READ.

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