There’s no question that Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) is a beloved and effective community resource. Central Ohio residents participate in its programs and check out materials in record numbers, national organizations bestow awards and accolades and striking new library branches transform our neighborhoods. Fundamental to the mission of a public library, CML is always free and “Open to All,” as proudly emblazoned across the entrance to Main Library.
Our public library is vibrant, successful and growing — which might make you wonder: how do we pay for all of this?
The majority of CML’s funding comes from two main sources: Franklin County property taxes and the Public Library Fund (PLF) in the state operating budget.
Many public libraries throughout the state seek funding support through local property tax levies, which must be approved by voters within the library district. CML receives the largest share of its operating funds from Franklin County property taxes. In 2017, $47.1 million, or 68% of CML’s annual budget is forecasted to be funded through property taxes.
Franklin County voters have proven to be reliable and enthusiastic supporters of CML, approving levies in 1986, 2000 and 2010, the last with 66% of the vote total. There is no more significant “vote of confidence” in our library system than residents choosing to invest their own tax dollars in our libraries. Local residents ensure that CML remains a vital resource that serves every community member.
However, not all Ohio libraries receive property tax support. According to the Ohio Library Council, 58 public libraries rely solely on the Public Library Fund for operating revenue. The PLF is allocated every two years in the state’s operating budget. All Ohio libraries are supported by the PLF, which receives a dedicated percentage of the total tax revenue in the state’s general revenue fund. It is distributed to each Ohio county and then among local libraries. While this funding stream has declined in recent years, it remains a critical source of operating dollars, especially for libraries that do not have a local property tax levy. In 2017, $21.0 million, or 30.4% of CML’s anticipated annual revenue is forecasted to come from the PLF.
The PLF’s impact is significant. It allows Ohio’s public libraries to be collaborative and innovative because they don’t have to compete for available funding like in many other states. This also means Ohio residents can go to any public library throughout the state and receive services. This is a direct result of the Public Library Fund investment from the state. The FY18-19 state operating budget bill was signed in June and temporarily set the PLF at 1.68% of the general revenue fund for the next two years.
CML’s third and smallest revenue category comes from donations, rental and service fees and investment income (only 4.0% in 2017). Library fines used to provide modest revenue, but have been eliminated in an effort to ensure access to library materials for all CML customers.
Friends of the Library plays a crucial role in advocating for both the levy and the Public Library Fund. The Friends’ 501(c)4 status, as outlined in its charter, enables this group to provide direct financial support for levy campaign expenses. Trustees and members also participate in grassroots advocacy efforts by widely publicizing the levy and educating voters about their choice. When the state budget is crafted every two years, the Friends contact legislators to express support for the Public Library Fund in the state operating budget.
It takes a strong community to make a strong public library! Whether you are voting, donating, volunteering, spending time in our libraries or using its resources, we are all supporting CML.
What about the new buildings?
In the last three years, CML has opened seven new or extensively renovated branches in neighborhoods all over Central Ohio: Driving Park, Whitehall, Northern Lights, Parsons, Shepard and Northside, as well as the grand transformation of Main Library downtown. Three more projects—new branches for Martin Luther King, Dublin and Hilliard—are still to come. These new branches have enriched and enlivened neighborhoods, serving as true community centers with expanded program offerings and public meeting spaces. Each new branch has seen significant increases in customer use.
A capital investment of this scale doesn’t come along often and requires special funding. To raise the $130M required to realize this ambitious vision, CML leadership chose to fund the new branches through a combination of bonds ($92.3M) and private philanthropy ($21.5M). The Great Libraries Create campaign was spearheaded by the Library Foundation Board, its goal to “create spaces where our community will dream, innovate, learn, share, connect and grow.” Led by a dedicated campaign committee, many individuals, corporations and foundations came through to create 21st century libraries for our community.