Photo Credit: ‘Chester County Library Exton’ from their Facebook.

 

During my childhood, the Chester County Library and District Center in Exton became a favorite place to visit each week. My mom would often take my sister and I. Always, I would walk out with a large stack of books to sustain myself for the week. My parents may have sparked my love of reading, but the library sustained it. As I end my undergraduate education, it seems fitting that my last article as Features Editor of The Quad is about where my education first began.

For years, it has amazed me that every time I pull into the Chester County Library’s parking lot, it is packed full with cars. Many times, I have had to park in the mall’s parking garage in order to visit the library. Despite new technology and streaming platforms that entice people with a different sort of entertainment, people have continued to flock to the library — young and old — and they come for more than books. The Chester County Library System offers DVDs, museum passes, music, e-Materials, a Business and Career Center to help with job hunting, free WIFI, websites used for grants and other research, as well as a safe space. These community-sustaining resources may well be lost due to potentially decreased funding from Pennsylvania’s state budget.

In normal times, a new annual state budget is deliberated on in June. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly decided to pass a $28.4 billion budget, lasting for five months. The benefit of delaying an annual budget rested in giving Pennsylvania some breathing room during the first wave of the pandemic to focus on the response to this health and economic crisis. The decision to push the annual deliberation to a Nov. 30 deadline meant facing a lame duck post-election session.

The public library budget, as it stands currently, is about 42% of what it was, a funding loss of over $250,000 for the Chester County Library and Henrietta Hankin Branch Libraries. This drastic budget cut could be critical. The Chester County Library and its 17 sister libraries will have to operate at limited hours, with fewer materials and services for the public unless the budget is changed. Users risk losing databases that help support businesses, job seekers, language learners and students; e-book funding, at a time when students depend on e-materials; museum passes and new technology. These resources are vital for the rebuilding of our economy; without it, our community loses the ability to help job seekers and keep users educated and engaged. The legislature has committed to reviewing the budget and revising it depending on Pennsylvania’s fiscal situation, though a change has yet to be announced. As of Nov. 20, state legislators are caucusing on budget completion. The state’s library budget has experienced cuts before, in 2004 and 2010, though the current proposed cuts stand as the largest proposed reductions yet experienced.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Education announced on Nov. 12 that 18 Pennsylvania public libraries will receive $5.1 million in Keystone Grants for construction and rehabilitation of public library facilities. The Chester County Library and District Center was among the 18 and will be receiving $387,500 to renovate the first floor for accessibility, add public workspaces and seating and combine service desks. This grant money is solely for structural updates though, and will not contribute to funding the upkeep of resources and materials.

Press Secretary of the Department of Education Kendall Alexander commented, “The Public Library Subsidy provides critical support to the Commonwealth’s 604 public libraries, a network that delivers cost-effective, close-to-home public services in all 67 counties, continues to serve as community anchors and literacy centers,  provides e-resources, technologies and programs for readers, do-it-yourselfers, and job-seekers, and supports formal and informal learning through pre-K, STEM, and makerspace services.”

The pandemic has put increased pressure on libraries to connect people with resources and materials in a safe manner. “Decreased revenues and increased operating expenditures have created issues.  As examples, getting and installing plexiglass screening, purchasing masks and gloves (for patron use and staff), enhanced cleaning, subscriptions to Zoom (and other technologies) for virtual programming, self-checkout being added to our library App, curbside service software and increasing our e-materials purchases are examples of things that were additional expenditures that were not planned.  Doing these items with lower revenues means other things were cut, but we do our best to meet our patrons’ needs,” stated Joseph Sherwood, the Executive Direction of the Chester County Library System.

Sherwood gave details on what resources are threatened by the potential budget cuts: “While we evaluate all services and do our best to minimize impacts, our Databases that serve business, Materials purchases and Computer resources (if reduced) would all have significant impacts. It may not seem like a major impact to some, but if you rely on that resource, it matters.” 

Layoffs may also result from decreased funding: “For all libraries, this is a major consideration. Our materials and staff are our two critical resources. We do everything we can to meet the needs of the public and ‘right size’ our staff with the funds available.”

Revenue driving events like The Friends of the Chester County Library’s annual fall book sale, which was canceled this year, has led to significant loss in revenue for the library. The funds from this sale usually go to projects, updating signs, sustaining museum passes, continuing education and other resources. “It will have a long reaching impact if we are not able to restart those. Across the system, these supporting organizations are invaluable to the libraries,” said Sherwood.

A library offers a center of learning, assistance and engagement that many take for granted until it is lost. Like banks, local governments, grocery stores and hospitals, libraries are public institutions that a community builds itself around. Without libraries and their resources, we lose access to a cornerstone of the community, an action that could have ripple effects much further than the immediate future.

 

Maria Marabito is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Literature and Diverse Cultures. MM883631@wcupa.edu

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