Part One of Two
By William Ecenbarger
Certainly not the Reading Public Library, where librarians had to shovel the snow last winter because maintenance workers had been laid off. Not the Coudersport Public Library in rural
The current state budget makes drastic reductions in money for libraries, which are now reacting by shortening hours, cutting staff, curtailing book-buying, canceling online research databases, delaying needed repairs, raising fines and fees, moth-balling book-mobiles and turning down thermostats. And it is likely to get worse.
Rendell's proposed budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year would cut library payments by another two percent.
Hardest hit are three venerable institutions:
--Free Library of
-The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has voted to close four branches, merge two others, and cut operating hours by nearly one third.
-The Pennsylvania State Library, the state's largest research library, is now open only three days a week instead of six.
Less money, more patrons
The irony for libraries is that, largely because of lean economic times, they've never been more popular. For example, the Delaware County Library System, which lost 26 percent of its state funds, has had a 10 percent increase in circulation.
"It's the same everywhere," says Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association. "People are coming to the local library to work on resumes and look for jobs. Most employers require job applications to be filed online, and people who don't have internet at home must use the library. Before they can even do this, many of them need help learning basic computer skills."
There's a line at the front door every morning when the Osterhout Free Library in
A major casualty are subscription databases, which offer services ranging from tutoring in foreign languages to automobile repair instructions.
Kathy Arnold-Yerger, executive director, Montgomery County-Norristown, Public Library, said despite a 22 per cent increase in computer use last year, she was forced to eliminate several popular databases because of a $486,000 drop in state funding. "One of these, Learning Express, is a way to practice for tests, like
The most widely used on-line service is the
POWER Library, which provides access to articles from periodicals, journals and newspapers and other reliable reference materials, is the basic source of student research, especially since it can often be accessed from home computers using library card bar code numbers.
Back to the Stone Age
"The Legislature basically returned all libraries to the pre-Internet age," says Barbara Mistick, director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Miller said that in 421 or
"The loss of databases on POWER Library will be devastating," according to Maggie Bokelman, librarian at the
Most libraries have cut back on the number of books, movies and other materials that they purchase each year. Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, says the 40 per cent cut in purchasing will translate into longer waiting periods for popular titles.
"We used to buy at least one copy for every library of popular items like John Grisham novels and the Harry Potter series," she said. "But no more, and now we have hundreds of people waiting to get a single popular title."
Miller says these reductions will have permanent ramifications. "Once you don't purchase books, it's a hole in your collection. Even if you get the money the next year, chances are you're not going to go back and buy the books."
The Reading Public Library has drastically reduced it hours-from 65 to 45 hours a week at the main library, from 35 to 20 hours a week at its three branches and from 37-1/2 hours to 18 hours for its bookmobile. "Any more than this will endanger what's left of our state aid," says Frank Kasprowicz, the director.
About one in every three public libraries in
The Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library in Northumberland,
Wayne County Public Library in Honesdale is in a 141-year-old structure that began as a private home and then became a personal care home for the elderly. The library took it over about 25 years ago. "It even has an old-fashioned cage elevator that our patrons keep getting stuck on," says Mary Rogers, library director. "For every new book we buy, we have to take one off the shelves and move it to the basement."
"Public libraries in
Nowhere is the low priority of libraries demonstrated more dramatically than in
Compounding the problem for public libraries is that school libraries at all levels are closing and cutting back. About 40 per cent of all
Even at the remaining school libraries, materials are out of date. A 2007 study commissioned by the state Education Department found that the average age of books in the school libraries of Bucks and
The school library problem is especially acute in
William Ecenbarger is a veteran reporter who specializes in
Masthead Photo: Main Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia
Photo 1: Stock Photo
Photo 2: Carnegia Library of Pittsburgh, Main Branch