Owls show who gives a hoot about library levy

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK As part of a library levy campaign, rocks painted with owls will be hidden around St. Clairsville labeled with links to information about the proposed additional levy for the library’s current expenses, due to cuts in state funding.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Officials hope people will show that they give a hoot about their local library when an additional levy in support of the St. Clairsville Public Library appears on the Nov. 7 ballot.

In the meantime, St. Clairsville residents and visitors will be finding numerous rocks painted with signature owls around the city. They are part of the campaign to promote the measure in the months leading up to the vote and will be labeled with links to information on the levy and the library itself.

“That’s the idea,” library Director Doug Walsh said. “What we’ve been talking about as a kickoff event for our campaign is to paint on the rocks pictures of owls. This is kind of our campaign slogan: ‘Your library, wise choice.’ … All of our rocks will have a picture of an owl. The idea is people will find the rock and associate it with our levy and it will help support the library.”

Walsh thanked Linda Hudson, St. Clairsville Library trustee, for allowing volunteers to use her home to paint the rocks and affix the labels, as well as assisting in designing the owls.

“We’ll be hiding them around the St. Clairsville area for kids to find and post their picture. It will direct them eventually to our Vote Yes for the Library Facebook page, where people can find all the information,” Melinda Thompson, trustee with the St. Clairsville Library and co-chair of the levy committee, said. She added that about 200 rocks would be painted last week and hidden around the community.

“Our goal is to make the public aware that the library is going to be on the ballot this fall. We want people to know that, and we want to give them information,” Walsh said.

The additional tax levy would be used to: maintain library hours, staff and services; increase available materials; expand electronic resources; upgrade technology and increase access to public computing; and maintain the facility and property.

The proposed 0.5-mill levy would cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 a total of $1.46 per month, according to the library’s levy fact sheet. The five-year levy would first affect property taxes due in 2018.

Residents of the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District get to vote on the levy, since the school district boundaries define the library’s legal service area.

Walsh said the state of Ohio provides 93 percent of the library’s funding, but the library has seen a 24-percent reduction ion its state funding since 2001. He said the current state budget further cuts public library funding.

“The new budget came into effect July 1,” Walsh said, pointing out the library must adjust its operations accordingly. “We have been cutting back. We had 11 employees in 2001. We have only five. Over the years we have been cutting costs. Our book budget is about half what it was in 2001.”

He added that the St. Clairsville library is one of only 58 libraries in the state that has been trying to operate without levy funds for the community.

“Our library is not supported by any local tax dollars at this point, and we’re one of the last libraries in the state that don’t have that,” Walsh said, adding that 80 percent of the state’s public libraries receive additional funding generated by local levies.

Should the proposed levy fail, Walsh said the library may reduce hours of operation, its staff and the number of available computers. He anticipates a decrease in services for adults and children would follow if the levy fails, and the maintenance of the building would be restricted to basic repairs.

“The maintenance of the building is one of the huge costs,” Walsh said. “We’ll look at hours and staffing, and we’ll have to look at services that we provide, too. We do things many people may not be aware of.”

He mentioned the library’s various adult programs, as well as delivery of library materials to the three senior residences in the area.

“What we do as a library is provide lots of services. We’re open to all people. We provide technology training many people may not be aware of. People come in looking for employment, we help them apply online,” he said.

He pointed out the library boasts 75,000 annual visits, 22,000 instances of computer and internet use yearly, and 70,000 instances where books and materials are borrowed yearly, with 10,000 e-books borrowed per year.

“We’re hoping this inspires the community to get out and get behind the levy and understand what the library services are and what the library can do for everyone in the community,” Thompson added.