The county’s two library systems have kept pace with suburban growth and a popularity boom during a down economy that saw residents spending less money on entertainment and more time job hunting.
The Lane Libraries and MidPointe Library Systems receive millions of taxpayer dollars every year, most of which goes toward maintaining current services for the more than 250,000 patrons who use their services.
In 2010, both systems asked voters for the first time to pass a 0.75-mill, 5-year levy. Last year, the levies generated $2.5 million for Lane Libraries and $2.9 million for MidPointe Library Systems.
When both library systems were founded — MidPointe Library celebrates its centennial this year and Lane Libraries its sesquicentennial in 2016 — funding was a lot different than today’s system that relies on a mix of both state and local tax dollars.
“The state really has made a commitment to library funding,” said Bill Morris, government affairs coordinator for the State Library of Ohio. “It’s a blend of funding that works well as libraries have become community centers.”
Each year, the amount of time patrons spend on computers in Butler County libraries is increasing. And in addition to the millions of books, CDs, DVDs, and downloads of electronic materials that libraries offer, they also provide hundreds of hours of programming for children and adults.
“The whole family can get all the free movies, free computer access, ebooks, books they can use,” said Anita Carroll, MidPointe Library System director. “When you start adding that up that’s a lot of money they’re saving.”
While MidPointe has not kept track of that number — but earlier this month installed visitor counters at its Middletown, West Chester Twp. and Trenton branches — Lane Libraries had more than 1.18 million people visit its three branches in Hamilton, Fairfield and Oxford.
“We feel confident we can provide pretty much anything our population needs,” Carroll said.
MidPointe’s more than 117,000 patrons recorded more than 103,000 Internet sessions last year, according to the library system.
The Hamilton Lane Library alone recorded 97,845 Internet sessions last year, according to Director Joe Greenward.
“That is a 20 percent increase over the previous year,” he said.
In response to such growing demand, Lane Libraries will open a community technology center later this year in the Robinson-Schwenn Building in downtown Hamilton.
The move has been necessitated by the abundance of computer activity at the Library’s Third Street location, but it also allows the library to provide new services.
“While this facility will increase our public computing capacity, what we’re most excited about is being able to provide new services and technology that are currently not being offered in our community,” Greenward said.
The new services would include access to three-dimensional printers and other advanced hardware, access to advanced software and computer and technology training.
“It will provide unprecedented technology access to the community who live, work and play in and around downtown Hamilton,” said Lane Libraries spokeswoman Carrie Mancuso. “In keeping with the library’s strategic goals, the facility will offer open gathering spaces and a meeting room for community use, computer lab for individual use and technology training, Wi-Fi access, business center and a high-end production lab, among other amenities.”
The Library Board of Trustees approved a budget of $490,000 for the start-up costs, Greenward said.
“None of the money for the initial construction, furniture, fixtures and equipment will come from public tax dollars,” he said. “The funding largely comes from our Leroy Roesel fund, which was a gift from Mr. Roesel, who was one of our regular patrons at Hamilton.”
Additional funding will come from the Hamilton Community Foundation’s Library Fund, Greenward said.
General funding for libraries remains uncertain, as they are at will of the governor’s biennial state budget — which slashed local government funds in 2011 and 2012 — and property tax values. More than 95 percent of Lane and MidPointe’s budgets come from tax dollars. Any significant cuts in funding could result in programming cuts or reductions, or personnel cuts, officials said. Lane has about 120 employees and MidPointe has 112.
“I think the difficulty comes in the uncertainty of what we receive,” Mancuso said. “We continue to meet with our legislatures to keep it on top of their minds. We want to make sure they have an awareness of what we’re doing for the community and the constituency.”
And while Carroll, MidPointe Library director, said she’d rather have a more predictable system, Ohio’s funding system is “stable.”
“We’re at the mercy of the biennial budget and we’re at the mercy of the voters. In comparison to the rest of the nation, Ohio is very generous in how they support their public libraries,” Carroll said.
Some libraries in other parts of the country are supported strictly by local taxes, and some are operated by municipalities.
Because of the recession that hit the country in late 2008 and early 2009, and the state cuts enacted just two years ago, more of the state’s public libraries have had to pass local levies. In 2007, about $457.9 million was paid to the state’s 88 counties, which were divided among the subsequent public libraries. Last year, $344 million was paid out for library support. Last year, Butler County received about $8.8 million divided almost equally between the Lane and MidPointe library systems.
Several years ago, about 30 percent of libraries were partially supported by a property tax levy. Now, more than 70 percent receive local property tax money.
Between tax dollars and fines, service fees and other revenue sources, last year Lane took in $7.2 million and MidPointe took in $7.7 million.
“It allows us to add a few things that our customers want,” Carroll said. “We’re really cautious with personnel because that’s a big expense.”
Staff Writer Richard O Jones contributed to this report.
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