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Libraries play vital roles

Even with the state of Ohio facing a massive budget crunch, we urge state officials not to close the book on our libraries.

All 251 Ohio libraries are funded through the Public Library Fund. The Ohio Department of Taxation allocates to libraries statewide money collected primarily through state income and sales taxes, to which Lawrence Countians, of course, contribute. Seventy-five percent are funded without the assistance of local property tax levies, creating a challenging situation as state revenue declines and expenses increase.

That is the dilemma facing Briggs Lawrence County Public Library.

The countywide library system and its five branches could be facing a budget deficit as much as $300,000 by year’s end.

Briggs’ Board of Directors cut spending by $160,000 for 2009 based on the bleak projections, but no one knew how bad it could be.

New revenue estimates are even worse.

Library officials are looking hard at cutting operating hours and dropping the work hours of its employees. All good first steps and hopefully will be enough to keep the doors open at all five branches — Ironton, South Point, Chesapeake, Willow Wood and Proctorville.

Libraries are instrumental parts of the community, serving as a repository of knowledge and learning, but also becoming a community hub for a variety of activities and family-friendly functions.

The naysayers who claim the Internet will be the death knell of public libraries are off base. The Web serves its function but it cannot replace the value of holding a good book in hand, children spending time expanding their imaginations and offering a gateway to learning through public presentations, free Web access and other activities.

Briggs officials have to continue what they have begun in taking a long look at every service the library offers and make the tough decisions when needed, which may unfortunately require staff cuts or drastic changes in how it operates.

But we hope our leaders in Columbus look at this when they are working on the state’s budget and find ways to at least minimize the negative impact to our state’s library system.

This may be an unpleasant chapter for our local libraries but we are confident that there can still be a happy ending.