Public libraries nationwide are struggling to maintain balanced budgets with reduced government funding over the last ten years. The Elizabethtown Public Library and Middletown Public Library are both victims of funding cuts and are seeking to fill the gap through fundraising events.
Middletown Public Library, a small library that services the borough of Middletown, Pa., had $20,000 cut from their budget in 2011. This dramatic decrease in budget led the library to hold several fundraising events.
A mailing, which asked residents of the borough and those with library cards from outside the borough for monetary donations, was one of the most successful efforts. “We have a very supportive community,” Christine Porter, executive library director, said. “I was surprised by how many people responded. But this shows you how much the library means for the community. We are fortunate for that.”
Other events last year included appeals to local business for monetary donations and a specific donation fund for a new microfilm machine.
This year, Porter is planning more fundraising events. In April or May, the library will host a dog competition in which competitors will run their dogs through an agility course, an event which will cost $5 to attend. Porter said she is very excited for this project and thinks this event will draw a large crowd.
Another fundraising event planned for this year is a partnership with Members First Federal Credit Union. The organization will sell stuffed teddy bears for $6, and proceeds will go to the Middletown Public Library. A similar event will occur with Middletown Press & Journal, which will provide a $10 donation for the library when one subscribes to the publication. Porter is thinking about planning additional on-site events later in the year after evaluating the success of these larger projects.
Elizabethtown Public Library will also host fundraising events to supplement their government funding cuts. Deborah Drury, executive library director, said state funding has been cut by nearly 36 percent over the past four years.
A food tasting event, Taste of Western Lancaster County, will be held Feb. 3 from 5-9 p.m. at the Elizabethtown Public Library. Organized by the Rotary Club of Etown, the event will provide samples of dishes from local restaurants and vendors which will then be voted on by attendants. The event has a $30 admission price. Drury says this is a very popular event with high participation rates and positive feedback.
Another event planned is a golf tournament sometime later in the spring. Appeal mailings and additional on-site events will be planned as the year continues.
Despite the success of fundraising events, public libraries are still finding themselves in need of more support. “Fundraisers help fill the gap lost from government funding,” Drury said. “But it doesn’t replace it,” she added.
Public libraries receive budgets on an annual basis from the state government and then the local government. Often, libraries receive budget cuts because the general consensus is that another public department, such as the police department, should have more funding than the library. Porter explained, “It’s a shame, but some like to pit public departments against each other. But each department offers its own special services, so you really can’t compare them. Because so many do not understand what services the library offers, we get cut.”
Some of the special services public libraries offer include access to databases, backlogs of newspapers, free WiFi, personalized help and special programs. Drury said that the programs are the most-used service at Elizabethtown Public Library. Porter echoed this when she stated that Middletown Public Library programs are important for the community, and she would never want to dissolve a program for lack of funds.
Elizabethtown College’s High Library executive director BethAnn Zambella helped to explain how government funds affect public libraries. As part of a private college, the High Library does not receive a budget from the government. Instead, Etown creates a budget and then designates an amount for the library. However, Zambella said the library runs on a lean budget. “In 2008, the library received a budget cut of 10 percent. That year it was very hard for [the library] to function.” The High Library has not received a budget cut of that size since, but the economy also factors in. “Even if a library receives the same budget as last year,” Zambella said, “you also have to take into account inflation and the state of the economy.”
Each year libraries have to renew their special services, and the cost can add up quickly. Zambella reported that the High Library spent $260,000 on serials and $150,000 on databases in 2011. “It’s the largest piece of our budget,” she said.
Another huge part of libraries’ budgets are capital investments. These are investments that are essential or unique to the library. Middletown Public Library’s microfilm reader, purchased for $10,000 in 2011, was a capital investment.
Public libraries must also pay for their own upkeep and maintenance as well as payroll. Middletown Public Library was forced by budget cuts to reduce their hours and to reduce one full-time position to part-time.
Since the general public is largely unaware of these costs, misconceptions about public libraries are formed. Porter said, “If everyone was aware of our special services, I think people would see the library as more than a place full of books.”
Zambella gave her opinion on government cuts: “I’m very concerned with it. Public libraries have little support, and that is the key element missing.”