Southwest Public Libraries serve 127 square miles in Franklin County, more than 23% of the county's total land area, plus one square mile in Pickaway County.
SPL is the second largest library system in Franklin County. Over the past decade, the service population has grown by more than 40,000, now exceeding 130,000. The non-white portion of the population has risen from 10% to 15%, including a dramatic rise in the Latino population and significant new populations of Somalian and Russian immigrants.
Currently, more than one-third of students in the South-Western City Schools are receiving free or reduced lunches based on low income levels, and 36% of households in the district are rentals. Much of the growth, and in particular the increase in non-English speaking low income residents, has created an ethnically diverse population concentration near the geographic center of the district.
Southwest Public Libraries have the legal status of school district library, which means that the library system's territorial boundaries are coterminous with those of the South-Western City School District. This legal designation also means that the Board of Education appoints the seven citizens who serve on the library Board of Trustees, passes the library's budget requests along to the county auditor, and serves as the library's taxing authority.
The library's funding consists of money provided by the Public Library Fund which comes from the State of Ohio and from a 1 mill property tax passed by the voters in November, 2010. Patron fines and fees, donations, and interest make up less than five percent of the library's budget.
Southwest Public Libraries presently consists of two full-service regional facilities. The Grove City Library is located at 3359 Park Street in Grove City, and the Westland Area Library is located in the Lincoln Village Plaza at 4740 West Broad Street in Columbus. Each regional library offers more than 21,000 square feet of public service space; the Grove City facility also houses technical and administrative services in an additional 9,000 square feet of space.All SPL facilities are a part of the Discovery Place Libraries consortium operated by the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
SPL's staff currently consists of about 85 positions, ranging from high school students to professional staff with advanced degrees.
Southwest Public Libraries own collections of books, recorded books, compact discs, digital video discs, and videocassettes which now total more than 300,000 items. As a partner and member of the Discovery Place Libraries, SPL offers access to consortium collections which exceed 3,000,000 items.
The library's total usage increased dramatically over the past decade. While circulation rose almost 100% during that time, it has leveled off at about 1.2 million annual loans, with more than 600,000 items used in the library each year without being loaned. Other usage indicators are increasing as well. The number of reference questions answered per year has continued to rise, but presently there is no accurate measurement for questions answered via library databases for persons who perform their own online searches in the library or on home or office computers.
Funding from the state of Ohio has been stagnant or declining for more than a decade. However, this has been mitigated by the passage of a property tax levy passed by the voters in November, 2010. While the library is no longer completely dependent on state funding, any future cuts will have a negative impact on SPL's ability to effectively serve a growing and diverse population. The South-Western City School District is the sixth largest school district in the state and providing service to every area of the district is a constant challenge.
Another challenge facing the library system is a lack of space. Southwest Public Libraries once offered enviable quantities of space for community groups and organizations to meet. The system presently provides less than one-half the meeting room space it once offered, despite ever-increasing demands. The library system once provided 300+ seats for public use in study or casual reading, but even with recent rearrangements, that number has been greatly reduced. Space once available for quiet study and casual reading has gradually been consumed by growing collections and additional computer workstations.
Parking becomes more and more challenging each year. Availability of parking near the Grove City Library improved somewhat in recent years due to development of public parking by the City, but difficulties still occur during many peak periods. Recently, parking has become an intermittent problem even at our Westland Area Library, as traffic increases in the West Broad Street area.
Finally, rapid population growth, including the rise in non-English speaking residents, provides new challenges every day.