How can a facility with less money offer more services to more people?

That's the question faced by the Tamaqua Public Library, 30 South Railroad St., a heavily-utilized resource facing a unique situation.

All public libraries are struggling to stay afloat after being hit hard by cuts in grants and state funding over the past few years. But as the second largest library in Schuylkill County, the issue is one of trying to serve an expanding population base when money is dwindling.

"We're seeing population growth in our service area," librarian Gayle Heath said.

And serving more people requires more financial resources, not less, she said.

According to U.S. Census figures, the Tamaqua Public Library serves 17,144 residents. That figure is up by 142 since last count. But the increase actually is much larger. That's because census figures for the local library don't include residents of the townships of Ryan and East Brunswick plus McAdoo Borough. The Tamaqua library hosts visitors from those locations, as well, in addition to Tamaqua and the townships of Rush, Walker, West Penn and Schuylkill.

The reality, she says, is that local, county and state funding has dried up.

"We're in a crisis mode," said Heath. "We need to get more funds in."

The library operates on an annual budget of about $150,000.

Board President Art Connely, Tamaqua, has indicated that nobody would want to see services cut.

To deal with the situation, the board is asking the public for help. Last year, the board contracted with Affinity Connection, State College, a marketing firm begun in 1972 and specializing in fundraising for non-profits and member-based organizations. The firm will coordinate a public mailing this month, its second such effort for the local library.

Over 5,000 mailers have gone out. Area residents should receive the information shortly or may have already received it.

Funds might be low, but activity at the Tamaqua library has never been greater in its 79-year history, Heath says.

Over 35,500 books, videos CDs, DVDs and other materials are requested and used each month.

The library also offers a bank of eight public access personal computers and free Wi-Fi access for laptops.

These services can be vital for many reasons. For example, libraries are a lifeline for the unemployed and underemployed, said Heath. Job seekers routinely use library computers and Internet access as the most affordable way to search the labor market. In some cases, the unemployed rely on the library to tap into needed social services or maybe to learn basic computer skills or prepare a simple resume.

Heath said the Tamaqua Public Library continues to be a vital communications and educational resource for the Greater Tamaqua area. In addition, the library has seen a dramatic increase in usage by school-age individuals through increased presence in schools.

The library also sponsors seasonal storytime programs.

"This summer we tried a Teen Reading Program," said Heath. "We're trying to reach into the teen years to promote reading for those who might not already be doing it."

Next year, the library intends to expand into the eBook realm. Library members will be able to download books from their home computers or laptops using the library's website.

"The eBooks will target a whole new segment of the population," said Heath. "You'll be able to borrow eBooks from the Tamaqua Public Library that are uploaded to your personal eReader from anywhere that offers Internet connectivity; and we are researching a new Integrated Library System (ILS) that is accessible online and will automatically format to whatever device is being used to view our catalog."

In addition, the library offers individual computer training sessions for seniors through instructor Jeanne Novack, Tamaqua. The facility also serves as home for the Black Diamond Writers Group, which meets monthly.

"We expect to soon address the need for new computer stations, a public-use laptop, two worn printers, and updated software," said Heath.

Information about the Tamaqua Public Library is available at 570-668-4660 or online at www. tamaquapubliclibrary.com.