EDITORIAL: Time to shelve library advocacy? We don't think so

The York Dispatch

Six months after the York County Commissioners cut $300,000 from his budget, it seems the head of the local library system is ready to move on.

Since the vote last December, supporters regularly advocated for the York County Library System, urging the commissioners to reconsider the decision that forced libraries to cut back on operating hours, books and services.

Yet, system President Robert Lambert recently published a letter online thanking supporters for their advocacy — and essentially asking them to stop.

York County Libraries President Robert F. Lambert is heading to Dover and Shrewsbury for the next installation of quarterly Library Think Tank sessions.  The focus of conversation is how libraries are transforming lives and building communities.  Today’s libraries play a role in workforce development, early childhood literacy, STEAM skills and much more.  Both events start at 7:00 p.m. and are free to attend.  This round of Library Think Tank Sessions will be held on Thursday, May 24 at the Dover Area Community Library and on Thursday, June 7 at Paul Smith Library of Southern York County.  Additional meetings are slated for September and November.  submitted

“Thank you for your passionate support of our York County Libraries and your local library during the last few months,” he wrote. “There is a time for advocacy and speaking your values, and there is a time for gratitude, appreciation and collaboration. Now is the time for the latter. 

“We now have discontinued our advocacy campaign,” Lambert added, suggesting supporters instead thank Commissioners Susan Byrnes, Doug Hoke and Chris Reilly for their service.

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We’re as grateful as any county resident for our commissioners’ public service, and we understand they have a tough job balancing competing interests.

But we also happen to believe our library system is a community asset worth fighting for, and now isn’t the time to stop.

Unless the county commissioners reconsider their support, the $300,000 loss in local funding could trigger a much more severe cut in state support next year.

In February, Lambert noted the York County Libraries System is a district system — which also serves Adams County — and that allows it to collect $1.6 million in state funding.

But in order to maintain district status, the system must keep libraries open 65 hours a week and spend $500,000 of its budget on books.

Because of the local funding cut, the York County system is not able to meet those conditions and is in danger of losing its district status and the $1.6 million that comes with it.

If something isn’t done soon, our local libraries could be in much worse shape next year, facing a nearly $2 million hole in their budget.

Lambert said the state gave the system a one-year waiver of the conditions, and he is hopeful that in that time, the commissioners will restore the funding.

"We are confident that the 2019 county budget review process that includes the library system and all community partners will be thorough and deliberate for all concerned," he wrote in his letter posted on the system’s website.

We expect nothing less from our commissioners every year, yet that alone doesn't make us optimistic.

After all, that same process resulted in a loss of funding that's now jeopardizing what Lambert rightly calls "a jewel in our crown in York County."

This isn't the first time belt-tightening officials have turned to libraries to help balance budgets.

So let us repeat what we've said here before: Libraries are about more than books.

Among other roles, they serve as community centers for diverse populations, centers for the arts, forums for civil discourse and online hubs for researchers and job-hunters.

Perhaps we don't have a clear read on the situation. There might very well be an ongoing behind-the-scenes conversation that justifies Lambert's optimism.

But until we hear commissioners say, "We will fix this," we're not ready to close the book on advocacy.