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As we see it: Library funding important for communities

In today’s world of streaming video, music on-demand, online gaming, and electronic books you can read or listen to on your phone, tablet, or other device, printed books you borrow from the library can seem almost quaint. Sure, there are still plenty of bibliophiles who prefer a book they can hold in their hand, but you could be forgiven if you prefer to consume media digitally. Some might say that, in such a world, the value of a library is limited. 

Those people, however, would be wrong. The role of the library in our communities is still as important as it ever was. In some ways, it may be even more important. Far from being a simple repository for paper books, the modern library – and the modern library patron – reflect these same changes in how people consume media. Along with printed books the modern library offers audio books, films, and even video games for their patrons to borrow. With your library card you can even borrow electronic books, digital audio books and streaming films through phone and computer apps like OverDrive. But the library is more than this too. 

The primary role of the library is, and always has been, to serve as a window into and a portal to the larger world around us. Particularly in rural areas, like Carter County, the library serves as a place where those without home internet access, or even a home computer, can go to access those resources. The library allows those without a high school diploma to obtain an education. It allows those looking for a job to apply for one, particularly in a world where online job applications are increasingly the norm. If a job requires a printed application, résumé or other documents, they can use library resources to build and print those. If a remote job requires someone to submit payroll or mileage online, the library is there to help with that task too – ensuring that truck drivers and contractors without adequate access to the internet, either while on the road or at home, can get paid and feed their families. 

More than that, though, the library serves as a social hub for a community. Library space can be used for job interviews, for business meetings, and for clubs and other community groups to meet. The Carter County Public Library has provided space for poetry readings by local author George Eklund. They provide a regular meeting space for school based gaming clubs, like the group that teaches math, social studies and literature through tabletop role playing games. They have also provided meeting space for local writers group Beyond the Forest, space for volunteers working with Maysville artist Ken Swison to put together art and literature magazines, and many, many other groups and organizations. 

The roles the library fills in our communities is important, and they could do so much more if they were adequately funded. Unfortunately, though, they are not. Former Governor Matt Bevin cut state funding to libraries during his tenure, putting many rural libraries at risk. Former library director Nellie Middleton took a cut in salary during her last year with the library to keep it going after state funds were cut, and the library’s new director, Christy Boggs, has already taken a pay cut as well – and according to library board member Jeff Erwin has continued to work without drawing a paycheck while the library waited on funding from the county and cities. Governor Andy Beshear’s proposed budget would have rolled back the dramatic cuts to state library funding, however the House budget reduced Beshear’s proposed $7.8 million for libraries to $5.3 million, and earmarked all of that for new construction. 

While this is going on at the state level, Carter County Fiscal Court has moved to pay their share of funding for the library, approving $25,000 for the library, to be paid in quarterly payments of $6,250. Likewise the city of Olive Hill has approved the payment for the current fiscal quarter, injecting needed funds into the library to help keep them solvent while they wait to see what the future holds. In Grayson, however, council moved not to fund the library and Mayor George Steele told Boggs that while he supported the idea of the library he would “not budge” on his position to cease doling out the meager funds the city once provided to support the library. 

Steele told Boggs he felt the county should cover the full cost of the library and that he had spoken with Judge Executive Mike Malone about having the county cover the portion the city used to provide. Malone confirmed that Steele had spoken to him, and said he would support the initiative if it was brought before fiscal court, but Steele did not show up at the last meeting of fiscal court to propose the plan as Malone expected. 

“He made a good case for county funding I wanted the court to hear,” Malone said. He also noted, however, that if the county approved covering the portion previously provided by the city of Grayson, he felt the court should also approve covering the portion that the city of Olive Hill, which has a smaller tax base, currently covers. 

Ultimately, however, while Malone may support fully funding the library, and Steele may not support his city funding their share of the library, the decisions do not belong to the judge executive or to the mayors of either city. Decisions about how tax funds are distributed are the purview of the county magistrates and the city council members of each city. They are the ones who decide through their votes how the county and the cities will spend their tax dollars. 

While it would be grand to see the library fully funded by the county, and to see state funding of local libraries returned to previous levels, until legislators at the state level and county magistrates make the decisions to do so the library relies on the funding they can get from the county and both cities. 

We commend the Olive Hill council members for approving their most recent payment to the library while they wait to see what the county will do, and we wish the city of Grayson would be willing to do likewise. Funding the library at $6,250 for another quarter while plans for county-wide funding move forward would not break the bank for the city of Grayson, but it would go a long way for the library. If, by next quarter, the county approves total funding of the library, then the city of Grayson will be off the hook for future payments. But if they do not fund the library, and the county magistrates choose not to cover the full costs, the city risks losing their branch of the library. 

Steele has said in the past that city residents are also county residents, and pay county taxes, so the county should provide certain county wide benefits to them without the need for city funding. He has a valid point, and one that deserves discussion and consideration. But the city of Grayson does enjoy the benefits of having a library branch within their city limits – something that residents of Willard and Grahn and Carter City and other Carter County communities do not enjoy. 

In an ideal world not only would the cities continue to fund the branches within their own city limits, but the amounts funded would be higher so that more of the county funds could support bookmobiles and other remote services to benefit county residents that do not live within city limits. What Carter County may eventually need is a small library tax to help keep the libraries open and, possibly, allow them to expand their services. Until that happens, though, paying their promised share to the library so that our director can draw the paycheck she earns is the very least the city of Grayson could do. 

(Note: Representatives from the county, each city, and the library did meet on Monday to discuss county funding, but no group had a quorum and no decision was reached.) 

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