Schlow Centre Region Library anticipates weeklong closure in 2014

jvanderk@centredaily.comSeptember 17, 2013 

If Schlow Centre Region Library’s 2014 budget receives approval this fall, patrons and staff will have to deal with a weeklong closure after continued state funding cuts.

Libraries in the area all are hurting as state aid has remained stagnant for several years but capital costs, inflation and materials needs increase. This week Centre County Library officials announced they may have to close the East Penns Valley Area Branch in Millheim.

Schlow’s board last week approved Director Cathi Alloway’s draft budget, and Centre Region officials will begin their review later this month.

While Alloway has cut every part of the budget, perhaps most notable is a proposed one-week closure of the library and furlough of all staff during that time.

The designated week hasn’t yet been chosen, but Alloway said it could be in May, a low-attendance time for Schlow, as nice weather picks up and the school year ends.

“We’re optimistic about this challenge,” she said. “We’re not closing. We’re trying to manage a very difficult financial situation. It’s better to close for a week than cut hours daily.”

Library staff discussed forgoing annual raises, layoffs and furloughs, choosing the latter over losing staff members. Just last year Schlow received approval for a part-time children’s department staff member.

“We can’t absorb this amount of business with less staff,” Alloway said. “We simply cannot.”

Since 2007, and including anticipated 2014 figures, Schlow has lost nearly $1 million — $982,571, which includes additional state aid Schlow receives to act as a district library, providing services for facilities in neighboring counties.

Through this year, the state funding losses total $775,000 since 2007.

For 2014, Schlow will request a 5 percent increase in municipal contributions. While the average increase has been 3.7 percent since 2009 and fundraising revenue has doubled since then, the gap left by state aid has become too large.

At the same time, libraries are required by the state to spend 12 percent on materials. For 2014, that won’t be possible, and Alloway said the amount is just below that.

However, for the first time, the deputy secretary of education, or state librarian, has granted waivers for that requirement and one that requires libraries to be open an average of 65 hours a week. The one-week closure will lower Schlow’s average.

“We’re going to have less money to spend on materials, and that’s really sad,” Alloway said. “We have big readers in this town.”

Library staff even will be picking up dusters to help clean the facility, as Alloway scheduled a 19.4 percent cut in janitorial and maintenance services. Those are provided by State College, and the cost was controversial among officials last year.

The 2013 budgeted amount was $114,490, and for 2014 it’s proposed at $92,200.

“Libraries are always dusty and moldy,” Alloway said, noting that books create a lot of dust. “We have to do more of it on our own. We’ll do what we can.”

Though Alloway tends to be optimistic about the services Schlow can provide on a tight budget, she’s less so about libraries seeing any future funding increases. Library card holders soon will receive Schlow’s year-end donation appeal.

As she says every year, Alloway said she’s thankful for residents’ generosity.

“The state aid cuts are so profound,” she said. “It broke my heart to have to cut hours.”

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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