Despite rising use, Schlow Library in State College may cut hours

Schlow Centre Region Library is looking to make up for budget cuts by trimming hours. The library said patronage is up, particularly for e-books.
Schlow Centre Region Library is looking to make up for budget cuts by trimming hours. The library said patronage is up, particularly for e-books. CDT file photo

Visits and circulation increased at Schlow Library in 2013, thanks in part to surging digital book readership, but it might not be enough to avert a cut in hours as soon as 2015, said library Director Cathi Alloway.

Like libraries across the state, Schlow has been tightening its belt for years in the face of budget cuts and stagnant state and federal funding. This year, it means closing the library’s doors and furloughing staff for a week in May to make its budget.

To avoid such furloughs in the future, it might be necessary to scale back how many hours the library operates during the week, Alloway said Monday.

“I don’t think we can continue to be open 65 hours a week,” she said.

The library is mandated by the state to be open for at least 65 hours, but officials could get a waiver to decrease that number to 60, for example. Alloway said no decision has been made, but she speculated that if hours were reduced, they would be late evening hours on weekdays. Those are times when visitors drop off dramatically, she said.

“Any trimming we do will be based on data,” she said Monday afternoon, hours before she would appear before the Borough Council to provide an annual update on the state of the library.

Her presentation to the council was hardly all grim, despite the ongoing budget troubles.

Alloway said the library saw a 3 percent increase in visits in 2013. Circulation also was up, thanks in small part to a 19 percent jump in readership of digital books, or e-books.

“There is no doubt the library continues to be heavily used,” she said.

To capitalize on exploding e-book readership, and to make it easier to find titles online, the library is updating its website. Patrons who visited the website Tuesday likely saw a big change, as the library rolled out a test of the new technology.

The new website is scheduled to be on display on a permanent basis by later this week, Alloway said.

The web update was part of a $102,000 planned capital expense. Alloway said the site makes it easier for patrons to find titles, especially e-books. That was a challenge for designers because e-books are purchased by the library from different vendors, and titles have to be linked to those various companies. The result of the project is a better experience for library users, she said.

“It’s a lot easier to find e-books,” Alloway said. “That’s the future of the library. People still love their print, especially in this community. But this is such a golden age for readers. You can read so much in so many different ways.”

The website should make it easier to search for books inside the library, as well. Alloway said the library logged over 1 million searches of its catalog in 2013. And it should be simpler to search using mobile devices after the website update, she said.

“You can be out at a store, see a book you want to buy, and say ‘Maybe Schlow’s got it,’” Alloway said. “You can whip out your iPhone and see if we have it, place a hold and save yourself some money.”

The library introduced another new program this week — a new parking validation system aimed at freeing up spots for customers during the day, and allowing the library to make some revenue when the facility is closed.

Alloway doesn’t know yet how much revenue the lot will generate through paid public parking while the library is closed, but she budgeted the income at about $5,000.