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Funding cuts mean shorter hours, fewer books at York County libraries

Maria Yohn
York Dispatch

A $300,000 funding cut to the York County Libraries System is creating a domino effect of dire consequences, including shorter hours, fewer books and services and the potential loss of $1.6 million in state funding.

York County commissioners made the decision in December to cut funding to the libraries and divert the money into efforts to combat York's growing heroin and opioid epidemic.

Storyteller Felicia Gettle adds animation as she reads a book during a pre-school story time at Kreutz Creek Library in Hellam Township Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. The York County Library System employee says, like many coworkers, her hours have been cut due to funding shortfalls. Bill Kalina photo

More:County reduces library funding, expands drug treatment court

“We have made some tough decisions to respond to this sudden budgetary shortfall. At a countywide level, these changes equate to fewer books, fewer services, fewer hours open to the public and a reduction in paid staff hours,” York County Libraries President Robert F. Lambert said in a statement.

“But that is just the start. There is a ripple effect. In addition to countywide reductions, individual libraries are evaluating their budgets and implementing decisions. At the commonwealth level, the $300,000 cut puts York County Libraries in jeopardy of losing state funding for not meeting the per capita service mandates of the state library code,” he said.

Lambert emphasized that the York County Libraries System is a district system that also serves Adams County. In order to maintain district status, libraries must remain open 65 hours a week and spend $500,000 of their budget on books.

As a result of the commissioners' decision to slash funding, Lambert said that the system is in danger of losing its district status and with it $1.6 million in state funding in addition to the county funding it has lost.

Lambert said the libraries system has obtained a waiver from the state for one year, and he is hopeful that in that time, the commissioners will restore the funding. He also is confident that the over 200,000 library card holders will make their voices heard to the commissioners, as regaining that funding is the only way to ensure that the library system continues to serve the community effectively and maintain the district status it has been proud of for 100 years.

"This is a jewel in our crown in York County, and we don't want to lose that," he said. "There is no way we can fundraise our way out of this problem." 

Changes: Lambert noted that the most immediate change will occur when seven of the 13 libraries that comprise the system eliminate 64 operating hours a week, 256 hours a month combined. The new reduced hours began Saturday, Feb. 17, and will result in the loss of work hours for 52 paid staff members, he said. More information about the libraries impacted, along with their new schedules, can be found at www.yorklibraries.org.

Owen Steinkamp, 4, of Springesttsbury Township, plays shaker eggs during a pre-school story time at Kreutz Creek Library in Hellam Township Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Storyteller Felicia Gettle, a York County Library System employee says, like many coworkers, her hours have been cut due to funding shortfalls. Bill Kalina photo

Technology spending at the libraries also will take a hit, as the replacement schedule for the library computers will be slowed and some upgrades and additions will be slashed from the budget. Lambert expressed concern about how this will impact rural residents who depend on the 212 computers and free Wi-Fi access that are available to them.

FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2013, file photo, patrons of the Hernando, Miss., branch of First Regional Library system explore online college-level courses that can earn credit. Prospective students who want a college degree but can’t attend a traditional campus may consider online college for its flexibility and independent learning style. But self-paced courses are not for everyone. (Stan Carroll/The Commercial Appeal via AP, File)

In addition, there will be a 20 percent reduction in new book expenditures, which will affect all of the York County Libraries locations as their new titles and bestsellers are centrally ordered and distributed. As a result, there will be fewer copies of books available of the physical and e-book variety and longer hold lists, Lambert said.

According to Lambert, the number of allowable loans per month through the library’s digital service, Hoopla, has been cut from five to three.

Ben Hamilton, 5, of Hallam, foreground, and Owen Steinkamp, 4, of Springettbury Township, stomp their feet to a song during a pre-school story time at Kreutz Creek Library in Hellam Township Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Storyteller Felicia Gettle, a York County Library System employee, says her hours have been cut due to funding shortfalls. Bill Kalina photo

Free library programs will be affected, as there will be fewer staff members and less time to hold them. To date, the individual libraries are considering which programs to keep and which ones to cut. Glatfelter Memorial Library in Spring Grove has decided to cut its program budget by 20 percent, and Kaltreider-Benfer Library in Red Lion has followed suit by cutting its budget by 25 percent.

Sophia, 4, left, and sister Destiny, 3, get some help from their father J.R., while having lunch in the Summer Food Service Program at Martin Library Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The program offers free breakfast and lunch to children 18 and younger Monday through Friday. Bill Kalina photo

Decision: Last December, county commissioners voted to eliminate $300,000 from the library system's $2.7 million budget and simultaneously approved $140,000 in funding to hire two new probation officers for the York County Drug Treatment Court, a step they said was necessary because of the increasingly alarming heroin and opioid epidemic in the county. The cost to cover the salaries for both positions is $140,000.

Lambert said that the library is not at cross-purposes with the county's fight against opioid and heroin addiction; rather, it plays a preventative role by providing a place for teens and parents to educate themselves about the dangers of drug addiction.

Robert Lambert

"The library system is part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said.

The library system has been largely funded by a percentage of property taxes since 2004, when the county began dedicating .1 mills of its annual property tax collection to the library. That amount has now been reduced to .09 mills. 

“Our libraries are a lifeline, not a luxury,” Lambert said. "We need this funding restored to continue serving the needs of York countians."