Public Library Gets Creative after Bad Budget Cuts

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January 19, 2015; Lancaster Online

According to Ephrata library director Penny Talbert, alternate funding streams are key. In addition to the room rentals and Friends group income that many libraries put to use, Ephrata has established a passport office and post office at its library. Through that passport service, Ephrata earned revenue of $180,000—an amount greater than that provided by the state.

Eleven staff members have returned to the Ephrata Public library after being laid-off due to financial constraints in November of last year. But the burning platform the library is on continues to smolder, making the organization agile and creative…and probably pretty stressed out.

Libraries across Pennsylvania have seen a sharp reduction in funding received from the state – while Pennsylvania distributed 75.75 million to 608 libraries and branches in 2007-2008, only about 53.5 million was doled out this past fiscal year.

Ephrata Public Library has certainly been affected by these cuts. According to information filed with the American Library Association each year, Ephrata’s total operating revenue has been declining since 2008. State funding alone was cut in half, from over $342,044 in 2008 to just $151,668 in 2012. And while local government support increased steadily between 2008 and 2011, 2012 saw a significant drop-off in municipality support at just $141,744, the lowest amount received by Ephrata from local government since 2000. One of the library’s local municipalities reduced support further in 2015 by 50 percent.

Continued reductions in the operating budget revenue led to the layoff of staff in November as well as a cancellation of free programs and the limitation of operating hours to the state minimum of 45 hours per week. Though the staff has returned for the new year with reduced hours, library programs that cannot sustain themselves will be eliminated and minimum operating hours will continue in 2015.

Several hours away in Washington County, PA, other libraries are seeing the effects of a reduced operating budget from lost school district support. For Chartiers-Houston Library, that means one-third of the total operating budget is gone. Combined with the lack of state funds, the Board of Chartiers-Houston Library believes that closure might be in the near future.

As these libraries and countless others struggle to balance budgets, innovation away from the reliance on governmental funding streams becomes increasingly necessary. Through innovation and collaborative efforts, many libraries are working to find a way to remain open and available to their community.

The Ephrata library strives to continue to develop these funding avenues in order to create financial reserves and future stability: “To forestall a similar crisis later this year, Talbert said the library is relying on Joy Ashley, Ephrata’s new director of development, who came aboard late in 2014 and drove the library’s successful fundraising efforts in the final months of the year.”

Her efforts will be needed to continue the valued services Ephrata offers and that the community undoubtedly relies upon. As libraries become vital in filtering though an overload of available information and serve as evolving community centers for life-long learning, usage of libraries nationwide continues to climb. Though many predicted libraries to become irrelevant, just the opposite is true as their relevance in society has never been more vital. As stated in an article in the Gotham Gazette advocating for NYC library funding:

“Libraries have evolved from a quiet place to curl up with your favorite paperback or cram for a midterm to a much needed community space. Libraries are a place for immigrants to learn English and a place where the unemployed can look for and apply to jobs. It’s a social space for the booming senior population, a workspace for freelancers and entrepreneurs, and in some cases, the only place New Yorkers have access to a computer.”

So while how libraries operate might be changing, their goals of intellectual freedom, literacy, diversity, equity of access, education and continuous learning must continue.—Michele Bittner