Library faces funding challenges with creativity

By on July 25, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Ephrata Review Correspondent, Staff Writer



A representative of the Whitaker Center teaches kids about the states of matter at the Ephrata Public Library on July 17. Free programs like this one are one of the many things the library is able to offer, thanks to funding at the state and county level -- as well as their own fund-raising efforts. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Organizations everywhere continue to face the daunting challenge of funding much needed programs in the face of a continually shrinking revenue stream. From school districts to local municipalities, from charitable organizations to the local library, less funding from the state and federal level means that leaders must stretch what money they do have even further. And, while the economic picture has meant less government funding, it has also created a situation where overall charitable donations are down.

The Ephrata Public Library is certainly not alone in this regard. But in the face of growing financial challenges, library leaders tried a creative approach to making ends meet.

In all, Federal funding accounts for less than one percent of the local budget. Of all sources of government funding, state funding represents the highest percentage, making up 24 percent of the 2012 budget. But as state budget cuts have led to dwindling money for the local library. The library will receive five percent less in state funds in 2013 than it did this year. County funding provides less than one percent while local municipal funding accounts for 17 percent.

The lion’s share of local funding, a whopping 57 percent, is library-generated revenue. That has been done through a number of creative programs and offerings that are tailor suited for the local community. Those programs include: home bound delivery services, computer classes, seminars, film screenings and special programs for children, teens and adults. Ephrata offers a full service passport service as well as one-on-one tutoring and computer training. Ephrata Public Library also offers early literacy programs and assistance for parents.

Locally, demand for the services of the library have increased in response to the economic downturn. People in search of work utilize the computer terminals and various job search resources available. Reading has increase in popularity as an affordable alternative to other sources of entertainment. The library has over 103,000 items for checkout, including Kindles, books, DVDs, audiobooks and early literacy kits. The library also has an extensive selection of downloadable audiobooks.

The library, it seems, has a little something for everyone, from individualized reference services, to computer access, WiFi access, meeting rooms and art exhibits. The library also offers a Bestsellers Book Club, book discussions, community forums, numerous databases, business resources, museum passes and of course, almost endless opportunities for library volunteers.

Yet, while the demands for library programming continues to increase and funding streams continue to shrink, library directors feel the pinch.

Library Director Penny Talbert discussed the challenge.

"I’m just in the beginning phases of working out the budget and I really don’t know how it will be made up at this point," said Talbert, "or exactly how much we’re talking about. I know it will be a fairly large number. The demand is high — and it is growing so quickly. These are jobs which require highly skilled workers with technical expertise that we don’t often find in volunteers."

The state recommends that municipalities served by a local library contribute to a level of $5 per capita. Talbert said that with both Ephrata and Clay Townships currently at $2.85 per capita, directors will ask those municipalities to increase their level of funding.

"People living in those municipalities are encouraged to talk to their local officials and request more funds be allocated for the library," suggested Talbert.

Talbert remains a realist in times when local governments are likewise feeling the pinch.

"I suspect the majority of the expected deficit will have to made up by private donations from members and businesses in the community, explained Talbert. "This is going to have to involve more fundraising, which takes time out of service delivery."

That could prove to be a tall order, but one Talbert and her team are not shying away from.

Currently, Ephrata can boast of some pretty impressive statistics. It is the largest circulating library in the county. In 2011 alone, 631,273 items were circulated, a full 12 percent increase over 2010. Talbert equates this with every item in the library circulating six times or 19.3 items per capita. This figure is also the highest in the county. Ephrata Public Library represents 16 percent of all items circulated within Lancaster County.

From a local perspective, EPL has 27,202 registered users which represents 82.5 percent of our entire population. Talbert points out that library users can use the library in the traditional way or by taking online classes, downloading audiobooks, learning new skills, attending lectures and more.

Talbert cites some pretty impressive numbers with regard to library visits. Each day the library serves over 1,300 people. During 2011 alone, the library counted 328,532 visits.

Ephrata’s success story does not end there. Last summer’s reading program logged 2,472 child and 906 teen participants. Throughout the year, 16,426 people attended programs offered by the library.

One would think it would take a staff of thousands to coordinate such a wide array of programs and resources. In fact, the library boasts great efficiencies among their staff members, with a little over 11 full time employees, three of whom are certified professional librarians.

"For each full time employee, we can circulate 54,299 items per year," noted a proud Talbert.

Talbert also points to the numerous partnerships the library has developed with a number of groups.

"We are all about partnering within our community," added Talbert.

Those partnerships include: the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley; Ephrata Performing Arts Center; Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce; the Ephrata Area School District; the Woman’s Club of Ephrata; the Ephrata Cloister; Ephrata Area Social Services; Ephrata Area MOMS Club; Ephrata Rec Center; the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts and even the IRS in providing assistance in filing tax returns.

As the library begins the process of working on its 2013 budget, Talbert cited a number of different recent grant partners that have made a tremendous difference. Those include: the American Library Association; Fetzer Institute; National Girls Collaborate; Lunar and Planetary Institute; United Way; PNC Bank; Constitution Center; Pennsylvania Heritage Society; Pennsylvania Humanities Council; Home Helpers; Magnolias of Lancaster County and Friends of the Ephrata Public Library.

A chief need going in the future will be stable funding. But the library also faces a growing need for more space. Currently there are 63 parking spaces of which staff and volunteers use at least 12. Office space is very limited. There is no more room for shelving. Meeting rooms are booked into 2013 and public reading and study space is at a premium.

Talbert is known for her creativity and her commitment to a job well done. Even so, she points out that for the local library to continue to offer the level of programs and services, it will take the community coming together to help raise funds, even helping to volunteer in some cases.

For additional information on the Ephrata Public Library, visit their website at ephratapubliclibrary.org.

Gary P. Klinger welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at klingerglobal@gmail.com. More LIBRARY, page A16

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