Ohio Law

News and Announcements from the Supreme Court of Ohio and Other Governmental Entities Within the Buckeye State.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Ohio's County Law Libraries (UPDATED)

Each of Ohio's 88 counties has a county law library. Scratch that. I heard at a meeting last Friday that the one located in Ironton was closed. Now there's 87. Funding of these libraries has always been a difficult propostion, with the byzantine statutory funding structure making the libraries dependent on the number of traffic tickets written by municipalities and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The libraries are also "quasi-public" in that they are not obliged to open their doors to the public, but must serve a statutorily defined constituency (judges, elected officials, etc.). The latter means that some of the libraries have an "Association" with dues-paying members. That money is classified as "private money," while the fine money is "public money." The libraries get audited by the state of Ohio, and those are always fun times for the librarians. But enough about history. The problem now is how to keep these libraries solvent with diminishing fine monies and a state budget that is supposedly going to be $5 billion in the hole this year. This problem has been discussed and rehashed at length for as long as I've been working in libraries (1987). The small counties feel that the big counties want to pool resources and monies for the sole purpose of getting in their pocket and taking money from them. The big counties see their budgets and fine money payments shrinking and feel the smaller counties are in a better financial position because of their geographic juxtaposition to an interstate where more traffic tickets are written. It's the same story every time.

This year might be different in that time may be running out. The state is going to cut the counties off at the knees in the next budget. The counties are going to be looking for income sources, and libraries could be in their line of fire. Librarians are worried about their survival. I have a suggestion that usually works on a personal level: make your library an indispensable unit within the county that people could not live without. How do you do that? One way is to make all of the libraries "county public law libraries." Open the doors to the public, the pro se, the student. The public love going to law libraries and conducting research. I worked for a time at the Washington-Centerville Public Library and was amazed at the amount of legal-type questions that came in on a daily basis. The need exists. Some libraries may not notice any change at all, while others may get bombarded with patrons and questions.

Indispensibility. Working more closely with other law libraries within the state. Resource sharing. Group buying. I think the time is now, before another of the 87 remaining county law libraries is forced to close its doors. This is just a suggestion that I have no way of predicting how it would work out. The perceptions above concerning the current situation of county law libraries in the state of Ohio are my own. If anyone feels that I am mistaken, please let me know.

Later

UPDATE: I have it on good authority that the library located in Ironton is alive and well. I'll explore a bit further to see if any other library has closed (1-25-05)



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