Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Library circulation falls

But finances in good shape now

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Book circulation at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County dropped 3 percent in January, coinciding with the system's second reduction in branch hours in six months, library officials said Monday.

"I think I've heard more complaints about the hours," library board President Elizabeth LaMacchia said, than about last summer's failed proposal to close five branches.

The library reduced hours at many of its 41 branches on Jan. 2, including ending Sunday hours for all except the main library downtown. The move was the latest response to cuts in state funding - the library's chief source of money - in the past year.

"I think it's showing in circulation - these things hurt," board member Charles Lindberg said at Monday's monthly meeting.

Most of the circulation drop was in branches that had the biggest cuts in their hours, Library Services Director Keith Kuhn said. Branches less affected by the changes saw an increase in circulation, he said.

"It is our most critical indicator of success," Kuhn said of the numbers showing how many books and other materials are checked out of the library.

The good news, Clerk/Treasurer Patricia Schoettker said, is that reductions in staff and hours should put the system's $51.2 million budget in good stead even if lower income tax collections reduce state funding. The library could get $1 million less than expected in March and almost $2.7 million less in July, Schoettker said.

The library brought in about $3,000 in new income in January, Kuhn said, by starting up a new passport application service. About 100 applications were processed on behalf of the federal government, and the library gets $30 of the fee for each one. The library took on passport-application processing because it provides a service to patrons as well as making money, spokeswoman Amy Banister said.

Lindberg expressed concern about straying too far from the library's mission, but board member Tara Khoury said she sees benefits to services such as passport processing and income tax forms.

"It's a way to get more people in the door," Khoury said.

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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