Millheim branch of Centre County Library to close

The library in Millheim will close sometime next week, as county library system officials approved shutting the doors in a cost-saving move.

The Centre County Library board of trustees, following a recommendation from a consultant in July, voted unanimously Thursday to close its East Penns Valley branch.

As part of the motion to close the facility, the board moved that the branch’s resources, from its collections to its book shelves, should be turned over to the Friends of the East Penns Valley Branch Library.

Trustee Sam McGinley said at a public meeting Thursday in Bellefonte that he is hopeful that the group can establish a community library, and said the county system will “give them the support and resources to do that.”

Amy Niewinski, the East Penns Valley representative on the county library board, said after the meeting she is hopeful that the group can make a community library work.

Niewinski is also a member of the board for the East Penns Valley Friends group, and abstained from the vote Thursday. The motion to close the library, the smallest in the county system, passed unanimously.

Library officials have called the closure “a regrettable but necessary action,” due to “sustained cumulative losses systemwide, as well as diminished financial support lost during the recent economic downturn.”

The county library, which operates five locations with a roughly $800,000 budget, has lost about $2 million in state and federal funding since 2007. Officials have had to dig into their reserves the past two years to balance budgets.

“They have cut almost everything they possibly can,” said Lisa Rives Collens, a district consultant librarian whose territory covers several local counties.

“I feel like you are at the point, unfortunately, the things you can do to cut from the whole are just not going to be enough,” Collens said Thursday. “Looking at the numbers and opportunities, unfortunately there does have to be a big cut, because all the little cuts have been made.”

Penns Valley leaders and residents who attended the meeting Thursday, however, questioned whether the board informed the public of the pending move and gave the community a chance to save the facility.

“We understand there are lots of funding cuts,” said Ruth Henry, a long-time East Penns Valley branch cardholder. “I just really wish the future of East Penns Valley would be considered and that you’d allow input from the local community. We had no advanced notice to provide input and suggestions.”

Leslie Warriner, Millheim Borough Council vice president, also charged that the library board didn’t do enough to inform Penns Valley residents.

“There was no public input process,” Warriner said. “So, I strongly urge you to question how this happened and how the public is informed and how the public gives you their opinion and expressed their concerns for the future.”

The library first announced last week the branch closure was being seriously considered and that a decision was pending.

Library board President Karen Drosnes was dismissive after the meeting, saying that residents still “might not know what’s going on after it’s closed.”

Drosnes said the board planned to meet with Millheim officials, but the borough canceled the meeting the library officials were to attend. She said officials found it hard to get the word out to a rural area like that of the eastern end of Penns Valley.

“It’s very small out there,” Drosnes said.

She said library officials in other counties that have gone though similar branch closures recommended to continue with the plan rather than gathering public input. “We were advised that we are just throwing money away,” she said.

Drosnes and other members of the board expressed remorse over the decision Thursday, and said it was necessary to protect the health of the library system.

Officials hope to save $65,000 per year by closing the facility, according to figures provided by the library. That’s money the library says can help close a budgetary shortfall projected to reach $164,000 annually without intervention.

The board said it will not turn its back on the Penns Valley community. The library plans to increase hours at the Centre Hall branch, pump additional resources, such as expanded bookmobile hours, into the community and help with a possible transition to a community library in Millheim.