Franklin County libraries caught in a tight spot

January 03, 2011|By BILL KOHLER |
  • The computer section is a popular spot at Alexander Hamilton Memorial Free Library on East Main Street in Waynesboro, Pa.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Public libraries across Pennsylvania, especially those in Franklin County, are walking a tightrope.

Circulation is at record levels, and foot traffic is the highest it’s been in years.

Meanwhile, state funding is down by $250,000 from what it was two years ago, forcing local libraries to slash staff, reduce hours and hold off on any thoughts of expansion or major purchases.

“We are caught between the expansion of services and increases in usages, and cuts in state funding,” Bernice Crouse said. “We are being torn apart.”

Crouse, executive director of the Franklin County Library System, said last week that cuts in state funding in the fiscal year 2011 budget have meant the reduction of 300 staff hours per week at the system’s four main libraries (two in Chambersburg and on each in Greencastle, Pa., and Waynesboro, Pa.) and its smaller branches in Fort Loudon, Pa., St. Thomas, Pa., and Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

Last week, Crouse announced further reductions in hours for the libraries, and the news doesn’t get any better.

Nearly all of Crouse’s staff members are doing the jobs of what two or three people were doing three years ago. Plus, none of the system’s 22 full-time and 44 part-time employees received raises in 2009, and all were forced to accept either a pay cut or a cut in hours.

It will be more of the same for employees in 2011, Crouse said.

“We’ve cut a lot of other stuff, too, many parts of the budget,” she said. “But there’s not much to cut anymore in the way of hours anymore. The staff is literally maxed out.”

Crouse said the key to maintaining the system’s standards of service has been a dedicated staff.

“It’s the nature of public service people to hang in there as much as they can. A lot of them are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said.

Crouse also said she struggles with the fact she can’t pay the employees “what they’re worth.” She said Franklin County’s public library employees are paid in the lower 25 percent compared with their counterparts across the commonwealth.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland, said the cuts in state funding for public libraries actually started eight years ago. He said Gov. Ed Rendell’s first budget slashed library funding by one-third.

“It creeped up slowly and it got about back to the break-even point,” he said. “Then, in these difficult budget times, public libraries took a huge hit.”

Kauffman, who voted against the state budget last year, said he doesn’t think libraries will take more hits in this year’s budget discussion despite a massive looming deficit.

“If we say we support libraries, then we can’t move forward and hurt them more,” he said.

“I don’t see that (happening) in the incoming administration,” Kauffman said.

One reason for Kauffman’s optimism is that incoming Gov. Corbett is expected to have a different budgeting plan.

Last year’s budget kept public education off the chopping block, Kauffman said.

“I believe the next administration will put everything on the table,” he said.

Crouse also is optimistic, saying that Corbett has some advocates for public libraries on his transition team.

Crouse said the back-to-back years of budget cuts have forced officials and volunteers to look at other streams of revenue.

Patrons may go through the county system’s website,, to purchase items through or to apply for a credit card. Both will result in small percentages coming back to the system.

Another challenge is continuing to serve a growing number of patrons with fewer employees.

Grove Family Library, which is the system’s newest facility, has doubled and tripled some of its circulation and patron numbers since it opened nearly five years ago.

“Every library in the system shows an increase in the number of people coming in the door and items being checked out,” she said.

Crouse said the system is increasing its available services through its website. Officials also are looking at self-checkout systems down the road.

“The goals again are to address the needs of the public while doing it with less money,” she said.  

She said the saving grace for the public libraries has been the local support — from county and municipal leaders, as well as donors.

“Donors have kept us afloat,” she said. “We exceeded our goal of $50,000 for our annual appeal. We exceeded the amount that we raised in 2009. Our local donors and local leaders have stood behind is. It’s our state leaders that have crippled us.”

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