Libraries deserve support

Blair County is testimony that, despite the vast amount of information available via the internet, community libraries retain their importance.

They deserve the government funding they receive, and they deserve business and public financial support — as well as remembrance in estates — to allow them to continue their important mission.

On Monday, the county commissioners demonstrated that they’re in total accord with the eight libraries that serve Blair’s populace. Besides the Altoona Area Public Library, libraries operate in Bellwood, Claysburg, Hollidaysburg, Martinsburg, Roaring Spring, Tyrone and Williamsburg.

During the commissioners meeting, at which Jennifer Knisely, Altoona Public Library director, and Katie Martin, coordinator for the county’s library system, presented a strategic plan for 2017-20 as well as a report reviewing accomplishments during the 2016-17 fiscal year, Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb observed correctly that people who question the need for the libraries lack understanding regarding the important services that libraries continue to make available to their communities.

Statistics that clearly justify the retention of the eight libraries include the fact that there were more than 281,000 visits to those facilities during 2016-17, including nearly 48,000 people who attended library programs and nearly 44,000 who were internet computer users.

But that internet-users figure is but a snapshot of how the internet and libraries work hand in hand on behalf of people in search of specific information and, otherwise, just to be better informed.

Beyond that 44,000 figure, Knisely and Martin, in their report, revealed that there had been 2.88 million uses of the libraries’ wireless internet connection during the past fiscal year.

That statistic is by no means shabby.

Beyond what’s in the respective libraries, there is the new, valuable option of borrowing materials within the system that might not be available in one’s own library.

That borrowing option was introduced in February.

It’s important that the county government be satisfied with how its investment in the library system is being used, and there was no dissatisfaction expressed on Monday.

The county’s $164,000 allocation for 2016-17 amounted to 9 percent of the $1.82 million in revenue that the eight libraries received during that fiscal year.

Because of the logistics involved in providing library service, the library system wasn’t out of bounds in spending about 62 percent of its revenue on salaries and benefits. Likewise, the approximately 27 percent of revenue earmarked for building expenses and maintenance was within acceptable parameters.

The remaining revenue, targeted for purchasing new books and other materials, represented a commendable effort to keep the libraries up to date regarding available resources.

It’s important to note two of the library system’s goals, going forward, that some people might overlook while thinking more in terms of the actual materials that the libraries hold. They are the libraries’ strong commitment to community partnership and the desire to provide excellent customer service.

Community libraries here aren’t heading for demise, not by any stretch of the imagination.

People who don’t take advantage of what the libraries have to offer are depriving themselves of great opportunities.