Ephrata Library not ‘fund’ of county plan

By on August 27, 2014

A push by the Library System of Lancaster County to allow countywide fundraising has created a rift among local  libraries. Ephrata library

Penny Talbert, Ephrata Public Library executive director and Lititz Library Director Susan Tennant oppose LSLC’s proposal to plunder their independent, regional fundraising territories.

“While libraries have not agreed on everything over the years, the one thing that has been respected is fundraising boundaries — until now,” Talbert said this week.

Public library boards across Lancaster County this month are mulling over LSLC’s proposal.

But while the Ephrata Library Board rejected  the agreement last week, Lititz’s board capitulated “after serious consideration,” said Tennant.

The Lititz board decided to sign the agreement “not because they believe the Library System of Lancaster County should be competing with our library or any of the other 13 independent libraries in Lancaster for the same funding sources,” she said.

Bill Hudson, the Library System’s Administrator, informed the Lititz board that the Library System had decided to move forward with fundraising “regardless of how we voted,”  Tennant said.

The LSLC had already hired a professional fundraiser before the proposed agreement came before the  board, she said.

“From our board’s perspective, signing meant we would at least be informed of (LSLC’s) intent  to solicit within our service area and we could be part of the process,” Tennant  said. “Our  board felt being in was better than being out of the process.”

How libraries are funded in Lancaster County is extremely complicated and “most people don’t realize that libraries are not funded primarily by tax dollars,” Talbert said.

The Ephrata Public Library receives no federal funding, and state funding has dropped more than 35 percent.

“We raise 64 percent  — or almost $600,000 — of all our operating expenses,” she said. “The last thing we need is to compete with the organization that was created to be a support system to public libraries.”

Lititz’s Library funding is down $150,351 annually in state and county funding since 2009.  That represents 26 percent of its  budget.  “Our salvation has been the board’s ability to raise our local general contributions from $124,000 in 2009 to $214,000 in 2013,” Tennant  said.

“Does it bode well for us if we are forced to compete with the Library System and their professional fundraiser for the attention and dollars of businesses and foundations in Lititz?  Absolutely not,” she said.

The agreement would allow LSLC to raise money in the library’s service area. The local library would receive a percentage of those funds; 10 percent  of the first $50,000; 5 percent  of the second $50,000.

Under the agreement, the Lititz or Ephrata library could see less than $8,000 if a local donor gave $100,000 to a system fundraiser.

“That’s ridiculous,” Talbert said.

“If the (LSLC) were able to find a big funder, or they received monies within a library’s service area from a foundation or individual, they should be working on behalf of the library that serves those residents,” Talbert said.

Though Ephrata Library will receive none of those funds by not signing the agreement, Talbert said the board’s decision was “not a knee-jerk reaction.”

“The board had thoughtful discussions and took into consideration how it would affect our service to the public,” Talbert said. “They are convinced, as am I, that the Library System has overstepped long-standing practices of libraries in the county.”

Still, the LSLC agreement  is not as troubling to other area library directors. Those libraries, such as Easter Lancaster County and Adamstown  don’t do as much individual fundraising as Ephrata and Lititz.

“The Elanco Library supports the countywide fund raising efforts of the Library System of Lancaster County,” said   Donna Brice, Elanco Library director.  “Any initiative to increase private funding for libraries for the residents of Lancaster County is welcome.”

Brice said large businesses  in the region may respond more favorably to a “professional appeal that impacts broader cross section of the population.”

“The county wide fund raising agreement adopted by the System board protects the Elanco Library from  funding loss if current donors are approached by the System,” Brice said.

Kathy Thren, Adamstown Area Library Director said the majority of Adamstown’s Board of Trustees voted yes to proceed with county-wide fundraising.

The board favored the agreement “keeping in mind that the overall goal of the fundraising process is to bring the best technology and library materials to the residents of Lancaster County,” Thren said.

County Commissioners appropriate about $2 million each year to libraries though  less than $200,000 is distributed among member libraries.

More than $1.8 million remains with the Library System — Ephrata gets less than $11,000 from the county, while the library remains the largest circulating facility in the county.

Some have suggested that Lancaster County Commissioners have pressured the LSLC to do cross-border fundraising or face funding cuts.

Commissioner Craig Lehman denied that, stating he “rejected the suggestion that if fundraising is not instituted that County library funding should be cut as a result,” in an e-mail.

Dennis Stuckey, County Commissioner from Lititz, said he favors LSLC’s increased fundraising role in expanded territories.

“As the county looks at tight budgets itself, employing alternative ways to fund the system is essential,” Stuckey said.  If money can be raised by the system, it will ease the pressure on the taxpayer’s pocketbooks to fund their operations.”

Stuckey said that local libraries that do well raising money aren’t likely to be affected or “will their efforts will be diminished by the system doing it on a much broader scale.”

“Both the system and member libraries are adjusting to changes brought by the communications age and all must be creative in the services they provide and securing the needed resources to operate.

The conflict is the latest in a series of disagreements between the Library System and some member libraries.

It boiled over earlier this year when the Lancaster Public Library began to consider leaving the Library System because of the fundraising agreement and other issues related to services such as IT and the cataloging of materials.

According to Talbert, there is disagreement among Libraries, often based on their size and funding stream.

“There is a great disparity in funding sources,” explained Talbert. “Our library has tried to diversify by adding a village post office and U.S. passport office  but without a doubt we rely on our community for the bulk of our funding.”

Though all public libraries in the county are  independent and are voluntary members of the Library System, some believe Ephrata to be a “branch” of the LSLC, she said.

“In reality, we make our own decisions,” Talbert said. ” The Library System cannot tell us what to do. This fundraising agreement is not in the best interests of our Library. My board felt they had no other choice.”

Patrick Burns is a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455

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