LISBON - Debbie Curtis believes public libraries should be an essential part of every community, and the Lepper Library is no different.
For that reason, Curtis and some others are in the early stages of creating a Friends of the Lepper Library volunteer group to help with fund-raising and create more public programs.
"This library is a beautiful resource but it just wasn't being used like I think it should," she said. "It's not the library or anyone's fault they don't have the staff or funding to do a lot of things."
A relative newcomer, Curtis and her daughter moved to Lisbon in 2010 after having lived in Columbiana, which has its own volunteer group that supports the library there. After discovering the Lepper Library, Curtis wrote a letter to the library board containing a number of suggestions, and then decided to take it a step further by offering to create a volunteer support organization.
"I just didn't want to complain," she explained.
After getting the go-ahead from library officials, the next thing Curtis did was contact similar volunteer library organizations in Columbiana and Leetonia to learn what it would take to create an organization in Lisbon. Nine people attended the first meeting held last month, and a second meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. today at the library. Anyone interested in joining is invited to attend. The annual membership fee is $15 for individuals.
One of their chief goals will be to come up with fund-raising ideas for the library which, like all public libraries in Ohio, has seen its state funding slashed significantly in recent years.
The Lepper Library's state funding was cut from $785,000 as recently as 2007 to about $400,000. This forced the library to not only cut staff hours but greatly slash the amount of money spent on books and magazines.
For example, the library spent $9,000 in 2007 on magazine and newspaper subscriptions, but that figure has been cut by nearly half. The library responded by asking the public to "adopt" a magazine by making contributions or picking up the entire cost of a subscription renewal, which is a job the volunteer organization will take over.
Another of the group's initial fund-raising priorities is to organize the annual book sale held during the Johnny Appleseed Festival in September. Curtis said in preparation for the book sale the group will clean up and reorganize the library basement, which became cluttered during the major expansion project that was completed last year.
Curtis would also like for the organization to come up with others ideas to use the library, such as hosting community events or providing free computer classes.
"This library is such a beautiful resource, but it just wasn't being used like I think it should, like a community center," she said. "I just want to bring people in by way of other activities."
All of this is music to the ears of library director Nancy Simpson, who welcomes the creation of the organization. "When you are financially strapped like we are, all you can manage is the day to day," she said.
Simpson said one of her priorities is helping a group interested in converting the library's archive of local newspapers to digital form.
Curtis said their goal is to work with Simpson and the library board. "What we're trying to do is fund-raise to support the library and do whatever they want to do," she said.