By Peter H. Milliken
Many issues on future library buildings and services are on the table for discussion as the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County begins to create a six-year strategic plan, known as Library 2020.
An informal written patron survey form is available at library branches and on the library system’s website, mylibrary2020.org. The survey asks patrons about their locations and patterns of library use and preferences for future library programs and services.
Informal small-group meetings are scheduled with community leaders, and public meetings on the strategic plan will be in June.
Heidi Daniel, library director, said she hopes a draft plan will be available in September and that library trustees can adopt the plan in December. Even after adoption, the plan will be subject to change, she said.
“The public library needs to have a North Star. It needs to know what its direction is and what its priorities are, so that we can make all of our decisions around that,” Daniel said.
“This is really the opportunity for the community to give us good input as to what they love about their library, what they’d like to see changed in their library, and how we can improve,” Daniel said.
The plan would replace the Library 2011 plan that was adopted by library trustees in 2004 and expired in 2011. Janet Loew, library communications and public relations director, said the plan was allowed to expire because the library director, Carlton Sears, who retired last year, wanted his successor to guide the new strategic-planning process.
A 25-member planning committee consisting of library trustees and staff and community members, whose members will be recommended by the trustees and staff, will meet up to four times to guide the process. All areas of the county will be represented on the committee.
Among the issues Daniel wants publicly discussed in the strategic planning process are:
The number and type of library branches the system should have.
The priorities for building renovation and construction.
The type and size of local tax levy or levies the library system should have on the ballot in 2014.
The types of materials, technology, services, classes and workshops the library should offer in the future.
The types of partnerships the library should have with schools, universities and other institutions.
With an $18.1 million operating budget for 2013 and 177 employees, the system now has 16 branches. That will drop to 15 in midyear, when the new Jackson-Milton branch opens and the separate North Jackson and Lake Milton branches merge into it. The system has a $23.8 million savings and investment portfolio, of which $19.5 million is in its building and repair fund.
The system derives 57 percent of its revenues from local real estate tax levies, 41 percent from the state and 1.2 percent from fines and fees.
Voters approved a 1-mill real-estate tax levy in 2009 and a 1.8-mill real estate tax levy in 2010, and both could go on the ballot for renewal in 2014, or they could be combined into one proposed levy in 2014, Daniel said.
“What the community wants from its library will determine what we ask for in the levy,” Daniel said.
Major construction projects being proposed are a $3.9 million new library for Canfield; $14.6 million worth renovations at main library at Wick and Rayen avenues, whose front section is 102 years old; and $1.1 million worth of renovations at the 21-year-old Boardman library on Glenwood Avenue.
The strategic-planning process is occurring while circulation of physical items, such as books, CDs and DVDs, is down 12.7 percent over the past three years; but patron contacts, including inquiries of librarians and clerks and use of the library’s website, are up 2.8 percent over the same period.
Daniel said she believes this shows the library is evolving from a place that emphasizes circulation of physical items to a place where more people come to do their work, use computers, attend programs and meetings, ask reference questions and check out e-books.
“People are still using the library, and, in fact, using it more than ever,” Daniel said.