MOUNT VERNON — Knox County voters gave the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County a shot in the arm Tuesday by passing the library levy by a sizable margin. Unofficial results were 8,665 for and 6,244 against. What this means for the library is that much of what was cut because of a sizable reduction in its state funding will be restored.
“That [restoration of hours, services and personnel] is going to start as soon as the money starts coming in,” said John Chidester, director of the county library system. “If I understand correctly, I believe our first settlement would come in about March 10. And we can ask for an advance before then. I believe the auditor has to give us whatever is in the coffers. If we can start doing things before March 10, we certainly will.”
The library had to cut branch hours, staff hours and the number of staff as well as purchases of books, magazines, tapes, CDs and DVDs. According to Chidester, there have been some purchases of the latter material through donations, but this was minuscule based on what the library had done previously.
“One of the most frequently asked questions asked by people congratulating me on the win is when are we going to have full services back,” Chidester said. “The answer is, ‘As soon as we can do it.’ As soon as the money comes in we will call the staff back, we will put [back] the hours of operation that were cut and we will start buying the materials we couldn’t buy. Certainly by the first of April we should be back in full swing.
“It doesn’t quite put us back to as good as we ever were. But it’s close. It does make it possible for us, at the very least, to restore all of the hours of operation that were recently chopped and to put our materials purchasing budget back to where it was four or five years ago, which was a reasonably good level.”
Chidester said one of the library’s highest priorities will be to have things available for people who want to make job searches and small business support. He said he feels these are among the most important services made available by the library to the public.
For the most part, Chidester said, money from the levy — which is a continuing levy and will provide funds needed for many years to come — will restore most, if not all of the recent cuts. But that is only part of the story. State funding for libraries has slowly eroded over the past decade or so, and the levy money will only maintain the level of services sustained in the last few years.
Chidester was asked if being forced to make cuts showed him any areas in which the library could continue to save money.
“We couldn’t do that without affecting the quality of the services we provide,” he replied. “We have been going through progressive belt tightening for years, because of what the Legislature has been doing to us. By the time we got to early 2008, let’s say, we had already eliminated most of the fat we could eliminate and were starting to cut into the bone.
“Ohioans have been used to very good library services for decades,” he continued. “So they had come to regard a lot of these as necessities. Of course, there are people out there who don’t value library services and don’t think they are necessary. So for them everything is fat. From our point of view we try to fulfill the demands of the public. What they come to expect from us is what concerns us the most. And a lot of those services had been eroded by the time we got to 2008. Things were really starting to get tough then. I can’t think of anything we’ve cut that we don’t want to put back.”
Chidester noted that there were 37 library levies on ballots throughout the state in the last election. He said 31 of them passed, an 81 percent success rate.