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Library faces budget woes

Published September 26. 2012 08:26AM

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 at the second largest library in Schuylkill County the Tamaqua Public Library there is a unique problem: how to serve an expanding population base when funds are dwindling at the very same time.

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

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

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

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

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

Board Chairman Art Connely, Tamaqua, says those budget shortfalls carry a big impact.

"We'd have to cut services," he notes, something nobody would like to see.

The board has been taking steps to address the situation and is asking the public for help.

Board members have contracted with Affinity Connection of State College, a marketing firm begun in 1972 and specializing in fundraising for non-profits and member-based organizations.

While the library typically coordinates a fundraiser each year, "this is the first year it's been outsourced," says Heath.

The firm will coordinate a public mailing at the end of the month. The initial project will involve a mailer sent to 5,000 addresses in Tamaqua.

Local residents should expect to receive the information in the coming days and are encouraged to offer their support.

Funds might be low, but activity at the Tamaqua library has never been greater in the library's 78-year history, says Heath.

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. Job seekers routinely use library computers and Internet access as the most affordable way to search the labor market. In some cases, those who are unemployed rely on the library to tap into needed social services or maybe to learn basic computer skills or prepare a simple resume.

Library officials say the Tamaqua Public Library is a vital communications and educational resource for the Greater Tamaqua Area and nobody wants to see the facility cut back in hours, staffing or services.

In addition, the library has seen a dramatic increase in usage by school-age individuals, partially due to the library's increased presence in schools through participation in a rigorous open house program, from elementary to high school.

"We go for outreach," says Heath. Those sessions are currently under way, along with ongoing participating in YALSA, or the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Locally, the youth programs have been promoted and encouraged by instructors such as Tamaqua teacher Thelma Urban.

"She gets the kids to make presentations to other teens," says Heath, adding that the Tamaqua library also supports school libraries "because they've been cut, too," in terms of funding.

The Tamaqua Public Library hosts many special events, from book discussion groups to writers' networks and public education and information forums.

Last Thursday, the library hosted a public forum on a rare blood disease found in a three-county area.

The library is currently hosting a Fairytale Fall Storytime starting Sept. 25 and continuing Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10-11 a.m. for a period of eight weeks. A Teen Read will take place Tuesday, Oct. 18 from 6-7:30 p.m. where teens present to teens about current young adult book-film adaptations. The popular sessions include free pizza, soft-drinks and desserts.

Information about the Tamaqua Public Library is available at (570) 668-4660 or at the library's online website.

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