Column | Lend your voice in support of Schlow

May 10, 2014 

Beginning Monday, for the first time since its founding in 1957, Schlow Centre Region Library will be closed for seven straight days.

This community gem will not be available to the 7,000 people who visit during the course of each week.

When our beautiful library building was built eight years ago, it was done so with support of all the Council of Governments municipalities, the state and more than 1,000 local residents who generously contributed.

The result is a vibrant library in the center of our community.

It is, indeed, one of the gems of State College and the entire Centre Region.

Running a library is complicated. We are fortunate to have an outstanding and dedicated staff who provide all the expected services, and more, for 65 hours a week. Lending books is just the beginning. There also are children’s reading programs, computers for those without, tax forms, technology instruction, public meeting rooms and a quiet corner to meet friends or just read the latest newspapers and magazines. All this and more is provided by Schlow.

Public libraries are an American tradition, with Pennsylvania’s own Benjamin Franklin often given credit for starting the first ones. They are considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population.

There are more than 400 public libraries in Pennsylvania. In addition to Schlow, libraries in Centre County include the Centre County Library and Historical Museum in Bellefonte, Holt Memorial Library in Philipsburg, Centre Hall Library and a bookmobile.

All are community centers open to everyone.

Despite what some may think, changing times and changing technology have increased use of public libraries, not diminished it. Libraries are booming across the country. Even so, Pennsylvania’s public libraries now face their biggest challenge, and Schlow is no exception.

Funding for Schlow comes from two main sources: allocations from the COG municipalities and from the state of Pennsylvania. COG has upheld its funding obligation, even increasing support to help keep up with inflation and rising costs.

This partnership is a good one, and the entire Centre Region community benefits.

The state, however, has reduced funding for Pennsylvania’s public libraries by $162 million since 2007. For Schlow, that translates into a total reduction in state support of $982,571 during this period.

Schlow has responded by dipping into its modest reserves, reducing staff, reducing materials budgets, installing paid after-hours parking and by relying more and more on support provided by the Friends organization and the community, as wonderfully shown by this week’s Centre Gives results.

But all of this is no longer enough to run a balanced-budget operation.

In response to, and in protest of, the state not living up to its obligations, Schlow will close for a week beginning Monday. The saving accrued by not paying the staff this week will only put a dent in the funding reductions made so far.

Further staff cuts, reduced hours and other measures will need to be considered if the state does not provide fair funding for its public libraries. If this situation continues, many smaller communities across the state are in danger of seeing their libraries closed forever.

You can help.

Please contact your state representatives and the governor’s office and request their support in maintaining adequate funding for public libraries.

And please join with the Trustees of Schlow and the Friends of Schlow for a public rally at noon Tuesday at Schlow.

Community leaders of all ages will speak out about what Schlow means to them and to the community and will add their voices in asking for fair funding for Pennsylvania’s public libraries. The public needs to speak out to help preserve its own public libraries.

Public libraries are among America’s greatest treasures.

With your help, they will be here to serve us all for generations to come.

Marilyn Byers is president of the Board of Trustees of Schlow Centre Region Library. Bob Potter is president of the Friends of Schlow Centre Region Library.

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