Shenango library is adding new services such as wireless Internet.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. — Those in charge of the Community Library of the Shenango Valley admit 2007 has been a trying year.
The library, once an entity of the city of Sharon, became a nonprofit stand-alone organization, underwent major funding cuts, organizational and staffing changes and, yet, has strived to offer the same level of service.
Larry Haynes, president of the library board, believes the only way the library will survive in the future will be with monetary support from the community.
“We’re hoping the community can grab a hold of the idea that a healthy library is the sign of a healthy area,” Haynes said.
The group hopes to raise about $90,000 this year to fully fund the $442,000 budget for 2008. If the money isn’t raised, the library will likely start cutting services such as hours and eventually lay off employees, he said.
“Our feeling is we have 100 percent confidence the community will support the library. We are going to proceed [in the new year] like we will raise the money,” he said.
Haynes said a committee has been formed to work on fundraising efforts. They hope to have a plan in place by early spring. Aside from the fundraising effort, the library receives about $134,000 from the state and $100,000 annually from Hermitage, whose residents are permitted to use the library, too.
The library’s funding woes started late last year when Sharon Mayor Bob Lucas cut all funding to the library in his proposed 2007 budget on the advice of consultant who studied the city’s finances. City officials are concerned the city is in financial distress and have been making cuts in other areas as well over the last year.
The library had expected a $240,000 contribution from the city. City council eventually agreed to give the library $120,000, but decided to hand over management of the library to a nonprofit board of directors.
The building on Sharpsville Avenue was closed for nearly a month and all employees, who had been on the city payroll, had to reapply for jobs.
What resulted was a much smaller work force providing just about the same service.
“I’m hoping the public hasn’t noticed much of a change,” said Amy Geisinger, library director, who came on board after the new nonprofit board of directors took over.
The full-time staff went from 10 employees under the city’s direction to seven employees. They are also relying more on the five part-time employees and volunteers.
“We are trying to have our staff more available at the desk. Work that would have been done in the back has moved out into the library so we can be there to help the public,” she said.
Geisinger recently surveyed library patrons about their use and habits and determined that if the average person who uses the library were to buy all the materials on their own — everything from books and newspapers to computer use and photocopying — it would cost $304.20 per month.
The library averages about 10,000 visitors each month.
Geisinger said the study was done to show the true value of the library to the community.
Despite the funding limitations, the newly organized library has tried to even expand its services.
She said in the last year the staff has worked on providing more programs to the public with everything from basic computer classes to upcoming classes on tax preparation.
She added that they are working on more library outreach and intend to start taking books to area nursing homes.
“We’re hoping to reach some of the people in our community who aren’t able to make it to the library,” she said.
The library also recently launched free wireless Internet and intends to make more educational databases available in the children’s computer section.
Meanwhile, city officials say they want to do more for the library, but just can’t right now.
Council voted last week to give the library $60,000 for 2008, about $40,000 short of the library board’s initial request for funding.
Councilman Vic Heutsche said he would like to continue funding the library in future years, but he’s unsure it can happen.
“I think that will go year to year,” he said of the city’s future support.