Sustain libraries’ funding

Many people consider libraries obsolete because of the information and reading opportunities available on the Internet.

In recent years in Pennsylvania, some residents probably have felt that the Legislature was helping to fuel that belief. State funding cutbacks that the General Assembly imposed on public libraries forced many libraries to cut back hours of operation, staff, resources such as periodicals, and other services.

Not many years ago big state funding cutbacks like those of the recent past would have been considered taboo. Libraries are an essential component of the emphasis on improved reading as well as a reflection of communities’ quality of life. Funding cutbacks are counterproductive to both.

Despite the challenges brought about by the reduction in state funding, libraries have survived – through understanding that the funding reductions have been necessitated by the commonwealth’s budget problems.

There’s optimism that someday, when those budget problems are resolved, significantly higher funding for libraries might be possible.

The funding reductions remain troubling nonetheless.

But all is not bleak on the library front. Many eyes are now focusing on the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, no doubt the envy of most Pennsylvania libraries.

The Hollidaysburg library not only is surviving, but a new library is being built to serve the community’s needs for many years.

Groundbreaking for the new $2.8 million, 11,500-square-foot facility took place on June 27; completion is anticipated for May.

Eye-opening to many libraries still struggling amid the adverse effects of the state funding reductions is that a $975,000 state grant has been obtained for the Hollidaysburg project. That grant is being provided under the commonwealth’s Economic Growth Initiative, which was revamped in 2012 to ensure that only active projects would be money recipients.

Leaders of the local effort sought the help of state Rep. Jerry Stern about six months ago to steer the application through the right channels. Stern admits to being a strong believer in the need for libraries, despite the resources that exist on the Internet.

“Libraries are essential to our communities, providing valuable programming; a source of information and entertainment; access to technology; and community meeting spaces,” he said.

Hollidaysburg has been dreaming about a new library for nearly a decade, but there were grounds for doubt along the way, especially as the state pulled back on library funding.

But to their credit, Hollidaysburg Library leaders and Stern were able to convince the state that the project would meet the goals that the Economic Growth Initiative had set for entities to be eligible for the grants.

Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said that in the awarding of the Growth Initiative grants, the focus had been on projects that would have the most community impact. The expanded space for community activities and the increased services that the new library will provide put the project well within that guideline.

People need only look to Hollidaysburg to realize that libraries’ future is not really as bleak as pessimists might proclaim.