ALLENSVILLE - There had been a public library in operation in Allensville for nearly half a century before the citizens of Menno Township were faced with a choice - maintain the facility independently or let it go for good.
Since the 1970s, the library had been a branch within the Mifflin County Library system. The partnership lasted for more than 35 years, but came to an end this spring when cuts in funding drove library leadership to re-evaluate the efficiency of the services it provides.
On April 3, community officials, local citizens, volunteers and the Mifflin County Library Board of Directors gathered in Lewistown to discuss their options. At the meeting, board members and staff cited decreased funding and low circulation at branch libraries as reasons to consider eliminating two branches, including Allensville.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
The Community Library of Menno Brady is open to the public and is run by volunteers and Menno Township.
Despite passionate protest from opponents, the board voted to close the library indefinitely. The doors were shut officially on May 31.
After the county library relinquished the site, the fate of the building and its contents rested in the hands of Menno Township officials and citizens. Steve Dunkle, library volunteer, Menno Township supervisor and former member of the Mifflin County Library Board of Directors, said a majority of the library's resources were left in the building upon its closure in the event that the library would be reopened under community leadership.
On July 7, it was.
"Many times in life, you create your own opportunities," Dunkle said.
This was not only an opportunity for the community, but an investment in its future, he explained.
The library in Allensville started in 1965 with a few cases of used books. Local citizen Kathleen Updegrove retired and prepared to move away from the area when she requested that her collection be set up for public use in the post office. Dunkle said the donation was the genesis of a library in Allensville.
For the next decade, the library changed locations and grew to serve more and more people before it became a branch of the county library.
Now on its own again, Dunkle said there were "an awful lot of things that needed to be done" to bring the library back to the community. Opening the doors as soon as possible was the most immediate need, he said.
On July 7, only a few weeks after the branch library closed, it opened independently under township supervision and a new name - The Community Library of Menno Brady.
Dunkle said 49 people answered the call for volunteers to operate the library, and they organized themselves into functional committees. He said volunteers developed a monthly schedule of three-hour shifts under which they would operate regular library hours. About 10 individuals also committed to serving as substitutes when necessary.
Next, Dunkle said, volunteers had to decide how to maintain the checkout system. The barcodes used by the county system had been crossed out. Rather than reverting back to the "old-fashioned way," Dunkle said the library ordered all new barcodes.
"It took from the seventh of July until ... sometime last week," to finish installing them in all the books, he said, laughing.
"We did about 7,400 books," he said, and have about 100 recent donations left to sort through. If someone visited the library in the interim, books were processed at that time.
In total, the library ordered 10,000 new bar codes.
"That was a massive organizational task," Dunkle said about re-barcoding each book.
Dunkle said the library received a "tremendous amount" of help from the community libraries in Mount Union and Orbisonia.
"They were phenomenally helpful ... I can't say enough about them. They connected us with the software to do this," he said.
Now that the library has settled into its new schedule, Dunkle said the township is in the process of finalizing paperwork and funding. He said supervisors are in the process of applying for the status of a 501(c) charitable organization, as well as finalizing bylaws and a constitution.
Dunkle said as time goes on he expects that maintaining the base of volunteers and balancing finances will be a challenge. However, he said community support has been strong so far.
"This library really does provide a vital service," he said. "(Patrons) can get on the computer and go anywhere in the world. If we don't have that, our people are at a much greater disadvantage."
About one out of every three people who visit the library come to use the computers, he said. Some use them for leisure, but others utilize the service for ordering parts for their business or seeking and applying for jobs.
The library has added one computer to its facility since it reopened in an effort to stay updated and relevant to the needs of its patrons, Dunkle said.
But there is still nothing quite like the feel of a hardback or paperback copy of a favorite book.
"I was here a couple weeks ago, and four Amish children came in. They probably checked out eight to 10 books," Dunkle recalled.
It was then, he said, that the 14-year-old boy turned to him and asked, "Aren't libraries a wonderful thing?"
"Those four children can't just hop in a car and go to Belleville," Dunkle said.
Even distances reached by horse and buggy aren't always on the schedule when there is other work to be done.
"How much time do they have available to do that?" Dunkle questioned, speaking about traveling for several hours to reach libraries in other parts of the county.
Library volunteer Barb Boylan said the Amish community far outnumbers the "English" - how the Amish refer to non-Amish people - in the Allensville area. That alone, she said, speaks to the importance of maintaining a local library close to home.
"We can't change the world, but we can do this," Dunkle urged.
As time goes on, Dunkle said his goal is not only to keep the doors open but to make the library a dynamic part of the community. He said "real soon" volunteers will begin developing a series of programs to be held in the large community room. In the past, the library held movie nights, children's reading hour and more. Dunkle said nurses in the community have offered to hold health screenings there. Other possibilities are craft exhibits, antique shows and displays of interesting memorabilia or collections.
"We want to have a series of programs ... take advantage of the resources we have here," he said.
Those in the community who have an area of expertise they'd like to share are encouraged to contact the library.
Boylan said the library also accepts donations of new or used audio books, CDs, DVDs books in large print and hardback and paperback books.
Children's books are especially needed, Dunkle said, because they are used often and worn out quickly. Because of the large faith-based community in the area, faith fiction also is a popular and requested genre.
The Community Library of Menno Brady is open from 2-8 p.m. daily on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.