Ohio Potentially Cutting Library Support in Half

It’s happening, folks.  State and local budgets are under extreme pressure, and tough decisions are being made by Governors, state officials, countys counties, towns and taxing districts.  Libraries that rely on public funding are now almost certainly facing severe cuts.

In Ohio, state funding for libraries is facing a proposed $227 million cut over the next two years… a nearly 50% cut.  Ohio’s libraries happen to be, for interesting historical reasons (Pdf), very reliant on state-level funding for their operations.

When one reads Governor Strickland’s budget statement, as well as the overview of affects on various agencies (Pdf), it becomes obvious that the cuts are being shared by many agencies that will have trouble absorbing them (Pdf), and that most will have to significantly scale back services in order to survive at all.

Think about your library’s budget… what percentage of it could disappear before you would face staff cuts, reduced hours, and elimination of programs?  I suspect that these effects would appear well before the 50% mark.  When one considers that funding to supporting organizations (such as OhioLink) is also being cut, the impact may be greater still.

At what point would the basic operation of your library be at stake?  This number is different for every library, as it depends on your physical presence (building size, layout, holdings, etc.) as well as staff training.  Cross-trained staff who have a good overall sense of the many facets of a dynamic library are able to provide far more services for their salaries than those who are compartmentalized.

What can be done?  At this point, the options are limited.  Library administrators will soon be forced to simply react to events, and have lost the window of opportunity to make anticipatory changes in their organization.  When I wrote about this last January, I was guessing that the effects would be most pronounced in the 2010-11 budget cycle (instead of this one).  California, and now Ohio, suggest that things are happening faster than many anticipated.

What can we do at our libraries?  Make it clear to those you serve, as well as those who fund you, what is at stake.  Whatever changes you make, let them know what you are doing, and why.  If you eliminate services, or reduce hours, or cut staff, that information needs to be disseminated, if only to lay a foundation for restoring them in the future.  When you find a way to save or restore a service, or more effectively utilize staff time and ability (see below), this needs to be conveyed, as well.

Of greater importance, undertake an assessment of your organization’s abilities.  Find out what the library staff can do, and what your resources truly are.  By effectively applying their skills, you likely can make better use of your staff than you currently are.  Find out what can be cut from the budget that can be done for less simply by utilizing less expensive resources and well-applied staff time.

Laying off a staff position will save a given block of money.  Eliminating the outsourcing of a service that costs even more, but can be done by that person in 15-20 hours per week, creates a win-win situation for your library.  There are many victories to be had in the line items of your budget.  The question remains:  is there time to find and implement them?

The fundamental approach to this has to be dynamic… anticipate changes, and be prepared to adapt.  The most adaptable area of your library is the people who do the work.  If everyone works together, sacrifices together, strives to find ways to save money by better utilizing their skills and time… if all of this can happen at your library, you have a much better chance to ride this out.

found on LISNews

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