Library in jeopardy

LEWISTOWN – The Mifflin County Library and its branches have long made do with less in an effort to maintain quality community outreach under the weight of heavy cuts in state funding. But after operating in “survival mode” for three years, administration says the library has exhausted its resources.

If funding doesn’t become available soon, the library is in jeopardy of closing all operations, executive director Molly Kinney said.

“We really, really are having a silent, quiet crisis,” Kinney said.

The news comes in the wake of an announcement that the Milroy branch library has closed its doors indefinitely.

Kinney said the closure is due in part to decreases in state funding for libraries, which has fallen by 38 percent from 2010 levels. In Mifflin County, that has translated into a loss of about $87,000 of revenue crucial to daily operation. While local government funding has not decreased, Kinney said operating costs continue to climb and the funding gap is widening.

The Mifflin County Library, which circulates about 151,000 items per year, is working with a proposed revenue of $530,000 for 2013, Kinney said. At this time, funding is only being used for operational necessities like staff salaries, but funds are still coming up short.

“We’ve calculated costs in ways I never thought we could calculate,” she said.

Despite the implementation of cost-cutting measures, Kinney said the library is having trouble staying afloat. No new books have been purchased this year with operating revenue, computers have not been replaced or added, electronic resources have been reduced and staff who retired or resigned have not been replaced. Kinney said the library has been operating in “survival mode” for three years and has simply run out of financial resources.

“We’re no longer bobbing (above water),” said Teddie Snyder, president of the library board. “Milroy happened to be at the right place at the wrong time.”

When the manager of the Milroy branch resigned, the library was unable to hire a replacement and decided to close its doors, Snyder said. Kinney said the closure came after careful consideration of travel patterns and proximity to the main branch of the library. The Milroy branch of the library cost $30,000 per year to maintain and was close enough to the main branch that community members will still have access to a public library, Kinney said.

“It wasn’t that we didn’t look at a variety of factors to cut costs to survive,” she urged.

The Mifflin County Library and its branches have long been “first responders” for the informational and recreational reading needs of area residents, she said. Now the library needs a lifeline of its of its own.

Kinney said the library is about to embark on a fundraising campaign and asks every individual, service organization, club, church and business in Mifflin County to help. She said the library hopes to raise $100,000 by Sept. 1 to compensate for cuts in state funding. The campaign will include the following programs:

The 300 Club – At least 300 individuals are asked to donate $100.

Each 1, Reach 1 – Individuals are asked to donate $15, 20 or 25 and ask four other people match the gift.

The Leather Book Club – 200 individuals are asked to donate $200.

The Reading Wall – Individuals, service organizations and businesses may make a contribution of $500 or more. Contributions will be recognized with the addition of a wooden book or shelf to the Reading Wall display at the library.

Direct Mail – The library will reach out to donors and prospective donors via direct mail.

“We have to do this every year,” to make up for financial losses, Snyder said.

If the library reaches its goal of community-raised funds before Sept. 1, Kinney said the library will be able to operate for another year. And with continued support, she said she is confident that the library will not only survive, but thrive in years to come.

“Libraries give the community an identity,” Snyder said, explaining how important the organization is within the community.

Local individuals of every kind have access to free informational and recreational resources, computer and Internet access and early literacy resources. She said the library is one of few community resources that doesn’t discriminate based on age, ability or income level.

“We’re here for everyone,” Snyder confirmed.

Despite tough cuts and loss of funding, Kinney remains optimistic that creative thinking and community support can help the library survive and thrive.

“In 10 years, the Mifflin County Library is not only going to be the best in the state, it will be the first thing in Mifflin County people want to come to,” she said. “Right now, we just need to come up and get another breath of air.”

For more information, call the Mifflin County Library at 242-2391.