Libraries still need more funds

The Altoona Area and Johnstown public libraries, as well as others in Blair and Cambria counties and beyond, apparently will be impacted in a positive way by the 2019-20 state budget passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.

For the first time in a decade, libraries in the commonwealth will be getting a significant infusion of added financial support, although the additional money contained in the new Pennsylvania spending plan will not come close to restoring the level of state support that once existed.

State aid to libraries peaked at $75 million in 2007 prior to the recession. The additional $5 million that the new budget contains will return the level of state support to only $59 million.

That lower figure should continue to be a source of embarrassment for this state.

Public libraries nevertheless continue to be important because of the great variety of resources and services they provide under one roof.

And it’s easier to have a number of resources open in front of oneself at a library than having to “bounce” back and forth on a computer screen or telephone while gathering information.

In a Sept. 22, 2017, editorial, the Mirror emphasized that community libraries “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.”

It’s understandable that the recession pressured Pennsylvania and other states to cut back on certain funding — and Pennsylvania has dealt with significant budget deficits since then — but Harrisburg has been grossly anemic in terms of the funding priority that lawmakers have been giving to libraries over the past decade.

Because of reduced state support, it has been necessary for some libraries to reduce hours, cut staffing and postpone or cancel purchases.

Hopefully, the boost in funding for 2019-20 is a sign that the commonwealth has turned the proverbial corner and will continue to increase funding beyond this new fiscal year.

The Altoona Area Public Library and the Johnstown Public Library aren’t alone in what they have available for residents of their service areas. On its website, the Altoona library urges people to explore all that it has to offer, including:

— A wide variety of services, from equipment and room rentals, to computers, Wi-Fi and printing.

— Classes for adult students, including computer, basic math and reading and exam proctoring.

— 3D printing to video production, music recording and photography.

— An extensive collection of resources including interlibrary loans, Hotspot Lending and obituary research.

Perhaps one of the reasons why state government has continued to be so anemic on the library-funding front is that lawmakers have not been spending enough time visiting libraries in their districts. Perhaps libraries ought to be scheduling “lawmaker days” — a formal opportunity at least once every two years for legislators to tour the facilities and receive updates on what they provide, as well as needs.

The additional $5 million in the new state budget is a start, but not enough.


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