Schlow library shutdown draws crowd to rally

mcarroll@centredaily.comMay 13, 2014 

— Ellie Kaufman might not have been the most experienced public speaker who sounded off Tuesday from the steps of the Schlow Centre Region Library.

The 7-year-old girl got her message across just the same.

“I care about the library because I can find new books and movies, and it is a great place,” Kaufman said to cheers from a large crowd gathered there. “Mr. Government, please give more money to Schlow public library.”

Local educators, lawmakers, families and supporters joined their voices with Ellie’s on Tuesday, rallying on the library steps to raise awareness for their cause and send a message:

Without restored state funding, closures like this or other cuts could become the norm.

The library has furloughed staff and closed for a week to help make its budget and to ensure it can provide full services to the community for the rest of the year, Schlow officials said.

With the rally, and steps like putting yellow caution tape around the building and a padlock on its book return, the library was using the closure as a way to draw attention to its situation.

And it certainly seemed to work Tuesday; educators such as State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O’Donnell, retired superintendent Patricia Best and several Penn State professors extolled the virtues of public libraries.

“Information literacy skills in this day and age are critical for us to help our society evolve toward the future,” O’Donnell said.

“With the amount of information coming at us in our country at this time, people need the skills to understand how to analyze what information is factual and what is not. Librarians are trained professionals to help us with that.”

Local elected officials such as Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, Patton Township Supervisor George Downsbrough and state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, urged the state government to increase library funding.

“Schlow is one of the best (libraries) in the state,” said State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham. “So why is it closed this week? Because state funding cuts that, added up, account from almost $1 million. This is wrong and embarrassing. We need to work together, speak out and call the governor and state legislators to fully fund all state libraries.”

While library supporters haven’t been shy about seeking attention this week, or about trying to put pressure on the state government to increase funding, that wasn’t the reason behind the closure, said Marilyn Byers, president of the library board of trustees.

“We really did (have to close),” Byers said after the rally Tuesday. “We had a cost overrun. We had some decisions we had to make: should we close an hour earlier each day? What should we do?”

Ultimately, the library decided the best way to proceed was to close and save a week’s worth of employee wages, utilities costs and other operating expenses.

State funding for the library has remained flat for several years, but it has never recovered from drastic cuts in 2007. The library figures it has lost close to $1 million since 2007 in money it would have received if funding had not been cut then.

And while local contributions increased slightly this year, and donations are up, it wasn’t enough to overcome budget woes, Byers said.

“Schlow has been a very well run fiscally and otherwise library,” she said. “It just finally reached a point with inflation, cuts in spending and mandates from the state — we have to spend a certain percentage of our money on materials and be open a certain number of hours — it finally took its toll,” she said.

The library, its parking lot and all book returns will be closed through noon Monday.

No loaned materials are due and no late fees will be charged. In addition, no returns will be accepted and all browsing, programs and story times are canceled.

All other libraries in the county are open. These include Centre County Library in Bellefonte, Centre Hall Area Branch Library and Holt Memorial Library in Philipsburg.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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