It May Cost Too Much to Close Libraries in Reading, Pennsylvania

November 4, 2009

Concerned citizens in Reading, Pennsylvania, have been brainstorming about how to keep the three branches of the Reading Public Library open ever since the board announced in late October that it had to close the three facilities at year’s end and lay off nine of the 20 branch library workers, leaving the city of about 80,500 people with one operating library. There seemed to be no other choice, RPL officials explained, because the library would be losing more than $650,000 in local and state aid from its original FY2010 operating budget of $2.7 million. Ironically, it could be the fiscal fallout of the closure itself that may ultimately avert the shutdown.

At a November 2 city council meeting, officials were informed that the closure of three out of four city libraries would jeopardize $900,000 in support that RPL receives from Berks County because the payment is contingent upon all four libraries being open. RPL board President Ronald R. Hatt said that county commissioners were already weighing whether to reallocate the funds throughout the Berks County Library System—an additional blow that could shutter the main library as well, the Reading Eagle reported November 3.

Additionally, the state of Pennsylvania would withhold $41,000 for every branch that was no longer open—a loss that would total $123,000 in addition to the $200,000 that Reading lost October 9 when lawmakers stripped 26.7% from state aid to libraries. Reading’s library subsidy from the state would be further impacted in FY2011 by the inevitable decline in circulation, 42% of which occurs in the branches; the state aid formula is based on the number of items borrowed per library facility, RPL Director Frank Kasprowicz cautioned the board, according to the October 20 Eagle.

For several weeks before this fiscal reality check, Reading residents had been making evident their love of their neighborhood libraries. An October 21 Eagle story recounted an October 19 meeting between about 150 3rd-graders from the 13th and Union Elementary School and Reading Mayor Tom McMahon at the Northeast branch. The children gave the mayor several containers full of dollar bills and change for the library and advocated for the restoration of the $483,000 in funding that he plans to cut to help plug a $15-million municipal deficit. “We need libraries because it’s important for us to read,” Lizmarie Soto told the mayor. “It’s good for your mind.”

A week later, local clergy met with state Sen. Michael A. O’Pake (D-Reading) and library officials at the Southwest branch. They strategized about part-time staffers and volunteers keeping the three branches open, albeit on a limited schedule, and clergy members pledged to form a neighborhood advisory board for each library to aid the effort, the newspaper reported October 29. Two days after the meeting took place, trustees and library advocates rallied outside the main library, handing out informational flyers about the budget crisis and gathering signatures on a petition that urged city and county officials to work together on a funding solution. “We’ll take all the volunteers we can get, but we still need money,” RPL board President Hatt said in the October 31 Eagle.


The Bunheads are Dead

Discovering high-tech, high-touch opportunities in library and information science