If a survey of library users in Sandusky County is accurate, there could be strong support for a levy that appears destined for the May ballot.
Those who use services offered by the Birchard Public Library, which has libraries in Fremont, Gibsonburg, Green Springs, and Woodville, are satisfied but would like the hours of operation extended to where they were before the library system implemented an austerity program to offset cuts in state funding.
Nearly 85 percent of the almost 600 survey respondents said they were very satisfied and 13.4 percent were moderately satisfied.
But they said they want Sunday hours back, according to Pam Hoesman, library director. Birchard’s main library is closed Sundays and closes at 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
“With revenue down 30 percent, the library is cutting expenses however we can, while we still try to provide the public with a quality collection and services,” she said. “Despite all the cuts we have made, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that this budget situation is not going to get better anytime soon. Over 90 percent of Birchard’s funding comes from the State of Ohio, and the state has an $8 billion budget gap to fill by June 30, 2011. We expect library funding to get worse before it gets better.”
Almost 74 percent of survey respondents indicated they would support a local levy to maintain current services while just under 3 percent said they wouldn’t. About 16 percent were undecided and just under 8 percent weren’t registered voters.
Local voters last decided a funding issue for the Birchard system in the 1980s when they passed a bond issue to finance the renovation of the main library building.
Hoesman said the library also held public meetings in October in all four locations to try to ascertain what services should be priorities as budgets become more strained.
Support for beginning readers, free Internet access, and maintaining an up-to-date collection of materials were three of the top priorities identified during the meetings, Hoesman said, adding there was also support for adult literacy programs and assistance for job hunters.
“What we are hearing at these public meetings and from the survey is that people depend on the library for basic services,” she said. “Well over a thousand people use the free Internet services every week, over 10,000 books and audio-visual items are checked out each week, and for many students the public library is their only library.”
Birchard’s board of trustees recently approved a resolution asking the Sandusky County auditor to certify the amount of revenue a 1 mill levy would generate.
Once the certification is complete, the board intends to approve a second resolution to place the issue on the ballot in May.
Voters state-wide strongly supported libraries in the November election when 30 of 38 ballot issues passed.
The Harris-Elmore Public Library passed a 1.1-mill issue, which was a request for new funds.
The Wood County Public Library passed an 0.8-mill issue, which was also a request for new funding.