Summit Countians still value libraries. If they didn’t, the library levy that appeared on the ballot in May 2015 would not have passed with a whopping 70 percent of the vote. Voters were not only willing to replace the previous levy but also to increase it. Part of the selling point was that state and federal funding had been cut.
Because of that, today the owner of a $150,000 house is forking over about $90 a year for the 18 locations in the Akron-Summit County Public Library system. When you put the taxes together, the library is getting $14.7 million per year, and will for another four years.
Frequent library user David Kettlewell isn’t so sure voters are getting their money’s worth.
“The library’s search computers have been out of operation for over six months,” he says. “They had computer problems nine months ago and they haven’t addressed it.”
The computers that formerly sat on tables at the Main Library’s first floor, just off High Street, have been removed, he says, and the ones still sitting in kiosks carry signs that say they are “temporarily” out of order.
“That means people can’t research the stacks. And half the time you try to go to the website, [it] is down.”
He expanded his beef in a follow-up email:
“Why are computers important at the library? That’s how we research and find what’s in the stacks. The cross indexed cards are all pretty much gone.
“Yes, we can go to a staff member, if one is available, but we’re not going to peruse through the stacks via them in the same relaxed and browsing manner we would if a computer were available. …
“You have kids out of school and you can’t even use the systems.”
The Akron resident says some of the library’s web offerings haven’t been working, either.
“We have a serious problem over there,” he insists. “And this was funded by the public.
“If this had [lasted] two weeks, that’s one thing. But six months! If I had to guess, my guess is they don’t have the money to fix it.”
Kettlewell says library users also suffered through another significant problem: “The central air conditioning system was also down for about nine months, which made the library uncomfortable for staff and public.”
Library spokesperson Carla Davis acknowledges that the library has suffered significant computer problems, but says Kettlewell is exaggerating their length and impact.
A written response from her reads, in part:
“Unfortunately, in March a major hardware failure affected a number of the library’s systems, including public computer access and access to the library’s catalog.
“Staff responded and internet services were restored as quickly as possible. The ‘catalog-only’ computers (search computers) should be available in July.
“The server crash that affected the catalog server wiped out the more modern version of the catalog, known as Encore, which [was used by] the search computers. [An older} version is still available on other public computers.
“In the meantime, library staff are available and happy to assist patrons in their search.”
Davis admits computers have been removed from their previous locations, saying some have been relocated from subject divisions to the “TechZone,” which is staffed by computer-savvy employees.
“Some other computers in the TechZone are awaiting installation of specialized software,” she says.
As for the air-conditioning failure, Davis has this to say:
“In October 2016, [we] replaced a large 12-year-old cooling tower on Main Library’s roof. A smaller chiller was used over the summer of 2016 until the new tower could be installed. The building environment was more humid and sometimes warmer than when the large cooling tower was functioning, but Main Library was not without air conditioning for nine months.”
To Kettlewell, the humidity and warmth he encountered were akin to having no A/C at all.
“I have a problem with entities like the library coming to the public again and again for levy support requesting quite large sums of money, then not delivering the services,” he says.
“I know some of the folks who work at the library. They’re top-notch and courteous. Looks to me like the problem resides in management, or lack of funding.”
Not so, insists Davis.
“The library’s finances are sound,” she says. “We are continuing to invest in our infrastructure by making systemwide upgrades to our technology and by addressing maintenance and repair issues at all of our locations.”
But clearly not fast enough for some patrons.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31