Dayton Metro Library Director Tim Kambitsch has been a busy man these past few months.
He’s been speaking with civic and community leaders, meeting with local organizations and canvassing area neighborhoods diligently to drum up support for Issue 40, the proposed 1.75 mil replacement property tax levy designed to financially assist a library system nearly decimated by a reduction of state funding.
Here’s a few facts concerning your Dayton Metro Library:
- The library serves over 470,000 area residents in 23 communities, at no charge.
- In 2008, patrons checked out a record 7.6 million books, magazines, audio visual recordings and additional materials.
- Dayton Metro Library utilizes strategic partnerships with local organizations like the Dayton Job Center and Sinclair Community College to offer training, seminars and programs for job-seekers.
- Patrons without Internet access conducted over 750,000 hours of job searches using library computers last year.
I recently conducted an interview with Mr. Kambitsch regarding the state of the library and the upcoming election. We discussed the massive state cuts instituted by Gov. Strickland, Dayton Metro Library’s current economic status and his take on the importance of the library system to the Dayton community.
DMM: What was your initial reaction when you received news of the huge reduction of state funding, earlier this year?
TK: Well, Laura Bischoff accurately quoted me as saying I think I’m gonna puke; She’s actually how I found out about it. That’s was my gut reaction. It was really shocking for everyone here.
But, if there’s a silver lining to it, it’s that it helped create a lot of awareness. There was a pretty substantial grass roots response…We heard stories that the email and voicemail systems at the governor’s office went down because of the number of people calling and writing.
One legislator said that the week that they announced all of these cuts, the librarians and their followers were probably ten times more than any other group combined. It was pretty substantial. That helped set the stage for the levy campaign.
DMM: What’s your response to the naysayers who may believe that the library is not as relevant as it once was in this age of Google and Wikipedia?
TK: I believe that type of person is in the minority. Two out of three people in our service area have a library card; an active library card, not one they had as a kid. I look at those numbers with great pride.
There are people out there that will believe that the Internet can provide what we provide. But, the types of people that we see coming in using the library are using us, particularly in this economy, for their own survival. People who have been laid off.
For example, they may have been a General Motors worker who had a job that entailed working a machine and probably didn’t need a computer at work and may not have had a computer at home. Now, they’re being thrust out into the job market…a lot of people just don’t have the skills to be able to interact in this new job market. We’ve done a number of things to assist these people.
DMM: In what ways do you help these displaced workers or even some older adults who may be re-entering the work force?
TK: We installed the same software the Job Center has for doing fill-in-the blank resumes. We started doing hands on classes on a number of skills.
There are a number of people who have never had an email address. They’re coming in and we teach them how to set up a Google account or a Yahoo email account. We give them some of those basic skills for surviving in a digital world.
DMM: But a strong library system also benefits children, as well as older adults.
TK: Absolutely! We’ve always been very strong in schools. And make sure kids have access to word and picture books that we all grew up with. We get into every school district in our service area. We sign up every first-grader for a library card.
Additionally, we’ve really been working harder with daycare providers…so many kids are growing up with parents working or out of the home. So daycare providers actually have a bigger impact on their readiness for school than some parents. We have early literacy programs and are working with other organizations like Ready, Set, Soar to make sure that we’re not just helping the kids, but we’re also helping those daycare providers be better at helping these kids get ready for kindergarten.
DMM: Is there a correlation between having a strong library system and small business or entrepreneurial efforts in a community?
TK: Certainly. We have facilities throughout the Montgomery County that small businesses can use in a wide variety of ways. We obviously don’t want them running their business out of the library! [Laughs] But there are people that spend a great deal of time facilitating their business off library computers. I’ve gotten emails from people who have told us that they owe the success of their business to the library.
We subscribe to premium content that is not readily available on the Internet…databases that contain valuable market data. So, libraries have content that very much are beneficial to small businesses. We’ve partnered with SCORE, and Aileron in lots of different ways to help them get at people they want to serve.
We also have our Grant Information Center that people can use to help identify federal and state grants, private foundation grants…and we also do programming so that we can help people and non-profit groups secure grants to help them flourish. All of this helps our community.
DMM: I know you don’t want to dwell too much on this, but what happens to the library if the levy fails?
TK: Well, we would have to make some immediate cuts to start stemming the expenditures that we have. But for the long term, we would want to have a community dialogue to find out what our priorities should be. I’ve rattled off a lot of things that the library does that we think are admirable and add value to the community, but we can’t do all of those things [if the levy fails].
So we would want to ask the community, which of those things are most important. Do we scale back on certain things, or do we eliminate them all together?
But, when you just look at the raw numbers…we are talking about 2010, operating with less than half of what we had last year. We are making do with a lot less this year, but we’re doing that, partly because we’re spending out of our cash reserves. So, in any situation, we’re going to have less money next year than before. But if the levy fails, the cash that we were receiving from the previous levy just stops. You add that together with the 5 million dollar cut from the state, that’s almost 15 million dollars in lost revenues.
If that levy fails, we would have to lay off more than half our employees. We have about 600 employees – it means closing more than half of our locations, too.
…It would be pretty dismal. I have a hard time imagining what the library would look like…It would be something that we would be feeling four or five years from now.
DMM: A few have suggested that the library should have membership fees for patrons in order to absorb some of the costs. Is that something the library has considered?
TK: When charges come into effect, they really have a negative impact. It deters people from borrowing…We know that charging for services here in Dayton would have such a detrimental impact on people who need us the most.
I have a hard time moving in that direction. We wouldn’t be a very successful profit center. If we wanted to be a profit center, we would close the city branches and open big box suburban stores that only carried best sellers. It would be something that the public wouldn’t want…I think it would be a disaster for something like that.
DMM: What changes have you made and will be making in the future to reduce your operating costs?
We’ve already installed self-service checkout. We’ve streamlined some operations. It used to be that you would return a book to any of our branches and they would return it to the branch you checked it out of. Now, when you return materials to a location other than where you checked it out of, it becomes a part of that branch’s collection. That’s not a bad thing–people get to see a stream of new materials. And it does help us reduce our shipping costs.
Patrons also used to be able to request materials from other library branches and have them shipped to a particular location. It’s a great service, but it’s really expensive…That’s one of the things, unfortunately, that we’re going to have to curtail.
we’re going to have to be a smaller organization. We may have to curtail our hours, even if we pass this levy. We’re already stretched thin with what we can do. When I talked about having that community dialogue if the levy fails, we want to have that even if the levy passes.
DMM: Any final thoughts?
TK: I want to say that the help that we’ve gotten from our union on this levy campaign has been extraordinary. That’s been gratifying. I want the voters to know that we are more relevant in this day and age than ever before.
We’ve had such large cuts in our funding, that we have to ask voters for additional funding through this levy. Our current levy expires at the end of this year…and we have to pass this new one or the cuts will be disastrous. I can’t imagine a vibrant community without a strong library.
Tim Kambitsch has been the Director of the Dayton Metro Library since Jan. 1, 2001.