LOCK HAVEN - State tax dollars to support libraries have dwindled in recent years, leaving libraries across Pennsylvania asking what they will base their budgets on. The news from Harrisburg some years resembles a horror story.
The Ross Library Board of Trustees sees the writing on the wall all too clearly.
Although the library's state funding for 2012 is nearly as much as last year's amount, this is still the fourth year in a row the funding has decreased. The library is working with about $59,400 less from the state than it had in 2008, reported Treasurer Eleanor Zimmerman.
"We have tried to make ends meet," she said, "but when the state mandates standards, then cuts our funding four years in a row, it's an impossible task."
This year, the library received $142,866 from the state. This compares well with its $142,882 in 2011, but the library received $160,203 in 2010, $200,277 in 2009 and $202,256 in 2008.
If funding had not been reduced and the library had continued to receive the 2008 amount over the succeeding four years, it would have been able to grow with a total of $162,796 more than it received.
Budget cuts have had to be made, Zimmerman reported. Staff members now participate in their health coverage, for example.
The city has helped. It recently updated the building's electrical system so the library now has energy-efficient lighting and a lower utility bill.
But communities throughout Clinton County must shoulder the burden somehow if they are to keep the Ross Library and its branches thriving. The trustees are looking to businesses and individuals, asking them to show what the library and its services mean to them.
Every year Diane Whitaker, Ross's director, makes the rounds of local governments, sending letters and attending some municipal meetings to remind local lawmakers what the library offers the community.
In 2011, the library recorded more than 124,000 visits - 429 kids programs accounted for 6,894 children visits, 628 adult programs brought in 8,540 adult visits, and five youth programs attracted 34 young adult visits.
A number of municipal leaders seem to recognize the library as a vital community institution, she said, but that doesn't mean local tax dollars can make up for the state cuts. The same local governments that always help have listed the library in their budgets for this year, she said, designating the same amount as in 2011. They are the county, which appropriates an amount second only to the state, the City of Lock Haven, and some (but not all) of the townships and boroughs in the area. The city also provides a van and takes care of building needs.
Grants are being pursued, but the number of grant dollars available also has decreased.
"Some of the agencies and municipalities are under-funded themselves," Whitaker said.
"We are starting the year with a little bit of money, but we are going to need support to make it through the year," she said.
Any cuts in hours and staff could result in the library not meeting state standards. Should that ever happen, the library would no longer be eligible for the level of state funding it now receives, which would force it to cut services even further. It is a downward spiral that could result in a library that is only a shadow of the institution the county has now - or possibly no library at all.
NEW AND EXCITING
The budget picture is grim, but the county-wide library and its leaders show a positive attitude.
In its 102nd year, the library offers many services besides lending books, music and video to all age groups, hosting local artists in the gallery, and maintaining and improving free genealogical resources that are the envy of many other libraries.
A few of its other services are:
- Ask Here PA - An online reference service available 24/7
- Free computer use and free Wi-Fi
- Books by Mail to homebound elderly residents
- A way to download free eBooks, including TumbleBooks for kids
- Free children's and adults programs.
Improvements may have slowed but they certainly haven't stopped.
In 2011, the library added the genealogy database Heritage Quest, bought the McNaughton rental plan for large-print books, bought 75 magazines, re-arranged the non-fiction titles for easy browsing, and re-arranged the large-print book room to accommodate a young adult reading area.
Patrons who stop at the front desk now can see a colorful display in the room behind the desk that welcomes youth. The young adult selections available at Ross include graphic novels and titles that draw teens, but in the past, the books were kept near the computers in the main reading room. The section always seemed out of place, with no chairs of its own to attract browsers. Now teens will have not just chairs but also tables, in a space designed for them, Whitaker said.
"We like to think that though our financial needs are not unique, we are," the library director said. "Our staff is creative, imaginative, enterprising and unwilling to lose hope."
The library continues to try new things even though money is tight. While it works on the state's goal for increasing literacy, it also is hosting a variety of health programs this year, something Whitaker said she is excited about.
As of Jan. 1, links to two new databases were added to the library's website (www.rosslibrary.org). One of these new links offers foreign languages.
Click on Mango Languages and create a profile, and the service will remember you and your progress as you learn one - or more - of the 10 languages it offers.
A new link to legal forms joins other services provided by the Gale company. The Ross website also offers Gale "PriceIt!" for antiques and collectibles and the Gale Testing and Education Reference Service.
The Gale services, as well as Cypress Resume for career planners, are available to Clinton County residents only, since the county is the library's basic service area.
However, Whitaker said, no one should be shy about using all the free services they can access.
"You can start right now," she said. All you need for some of these online services is a library card number and an email. For others you need a password, and you may call the library at 748-3321 to get one.
BE A FRIEND
The popular Heritage Quest database is provided by the Friends of the Library.
The Ross is lucky to have such an active volunteer group behind it as the Friends. The organization continually raises money to help the library stay afloat and meet state standards.
"Each year they surprise and surpass their pledges," according to Zimmerman.
"We have many donations and volunteers and bequests from families," she added. "But in the end, we will fall short."
Who will make up the shortfall?
"We continue to look for grants, new ideas and green pastures," Whitaker said. "And, yes, we will continue to solicit the community for funds."
If the community does not step up, the library will have fewer books, programs, DVDs and CDs to offer. It will be forced to cut hours, staff and services and ultimately, lose its eligibility for state funds.
"If you receive a request for a donation, be generous," Whitaker said.
Contributions may be mailed to Ross Library, 232 W. Main St., Lock Haven, Pa. 17745, or made with PayPal. Click on "Donate" on the library's website.