The Cumberland County Library System didn’t mind out-of-county residents using its libraries, including the 40 to 50 percent of New Cumberland Public Library users who come from York County.
But when the state in 2008 defunded its Library Card Reimbursement Program, which provided $280,000 to Cumberland County for out-of-county users, the New Cumberland Public Library felt the squeeze, according to library system Executive Director Jonelle Darr. The library had to reduce its hours, cease operations on Fridays, and purchase fewer books due to lost revenues, she said — all while not seeing a drop in demand for library services.
Darr asked the Cumberland County commissioners Thursday morning to support a letter to state legislators urging a 50 percent restoration of that funding, leading the commissioners to raise questions about the fairness of subsidizing out-of-county library users and the cost-effectiveness of the county library system.
Sixteen percent of Cumberland County library users come from outside the county — mainly northern York County residents using New Cumberland Public Library and Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, although there are some out-of-county users at all county libraries, Darr said. Because the county receives other state funds, it must provide a free library card to any resident of an area serviced by a home library, she said.
Darr does not take issue with the statewide sharing of library services, since Cumberland County residents also benefit from being able to use other counties’ libraries. In fact, the county is the second-biggest user of the Philadelphia Free Library’s e-book collection, she said. She also doesn’t blame the York County Library System, which could provide better service to northern York County residents if it received more state funding, she said.
Still, the defunding of the Library Card Reimbursement Program, combined with a $436,000 decrease since 2008 in other state library funds, has created a “quiet crisis” in Cumberland County, she said.
“Our resources will soon be depleted,” she said.
The county system is currently allotted slightly more than $1 million in state funding, representing a 41 percent decrease in state funding since 2008, she said.
The system also receives funding from the county library tax, but the county commissioners declined its request to increase the tax by 3 percent last year. The commissioners then asked the library system to re-examine its core services and values, but Darr said the library system “feels that we’ve (already) honed in on that.”
The system is now looking to hire a discussion leader to help “bridge some of the obvious gaps in understanding (between the commissioners and the library system) in the budget and issues in regards to the future direction of the library,” commissioner Gary Eichelberger said.
The system likely will present a proposal to the commissioners in the near future for creating a process to help resolve areas of disagreement, Darr said.
Commissioner Barbara Cross raised the issue of providing county funding again last week, especially because Cumberland County is subsidizing users from places like neighboring Perry County that do not have a county library system.
“I have been approached by commissioners (from other counties) as to, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Why are we doing this, especially with a library tax, when there are counties that do not?” Cross asked.
Darr responded that Cumberland County is a community that “has expressed support for library services.” She noted that without a county library system, some Perry County residents are not served by a local library and therefore can be charged when they use other libraries. Cumberland County charges those residents $60 per year, she said.
New Cumberland Public Library
Of particular concern to Eichelberger was the use of the New Cumberland Public Library by residents in Fairview Township, York County, who don’t pay the Cumberland County library tax.
“The York County issue, to me, is a basic fairness issue that needs to be addressed at some point,” Eichelberger said.
Darr said the Cumberland County Library System could petition the state to have Fairview Township added to their service area, but that would not necessarily give Cumberland County more funding since the state has not revised its funding formula since 2003. If Fairview Township was considered part of the New Cumberland Public Library’s service area, York County and Fairview Township also still would be under no legal obligation to provide funds, she said. The library also no longer would be eligible for Library Card Reimbursement Program funds if the program’s funds were reinstated, she said.
The Shippensburg Public Library has three Franklin County municipalities in its primary service area — Southampton Township, Orrstown Borough, and Franklin County’s portion of Shippensburg Borough — but those municipalities provide funds to support the library, she said.
The commissioners were scheduled to vote Monday on approving the letter urging the reinstatement of the Library Card Reimbursement Program. Commissioner Jim Hertzler indicated that he likely would approve it.
“I think the state needs to do its fair share here, in terms of providing the funding,” Hertzler said. “We’re going to have to look at other methods of how we’re going to make it fair if the state doesn’t do that.”
Email Daniel Walmer at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @SentinelWalmer