Saturday, November 29, 2008

The library SYSTEM receives millions; the libraries get peanuts

At last week's County Commissioners meeting, Library SYSTEM Executive Director Susan Hauer showed pluck by getting up during the Public Comment portion and asking if she might make a presentation concerning the need for SYSTEM funding. And to their credit, the Commissioners graciously allowed her to do so.

(The commissioners indulge visitors including the publisher of this web site. And yes, they do take and respond to questions, unlike Mayor Rick Gray and Lancaster City Council. In fact, Chair Dennis Stuckey makes a point of thanking contributors for their remarks.)

Hauer talked about how County funding had remained static since the turn of the century and made a strong case for not reducing the SYSTEM'S request in next year's budget. She then went on to say that the full allocation of $2.3 million would allow "distribution of a total of $150,000 to the 16 municipal libraries that are part of the system."

Hey what? The only funds going to the actual libraries average less than $10,000 each? Don't the independent local libraries, not the SYSTEM, incur most of the expenses? Do we hear correctly?

Sadly we do. We have a bloated SYSTEM and starving libraries.

Hauer isn't totally to blame. She works for the SYSTEM and is taking care of her own. It is the very fragmentation of library services in the county that leads to mis-allocation of scarce resources and weak local leadership, especially with fundraising.

There is no strong and articulate voice for the hundreds of dedicated employees who faithfully serve our community at the local level and for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who use library services throughout the county.

$150,000 at most for 16 libraries that have to pay the salaries of their employees and purchase all of the materials while maintaining their facilities? But $2.3 million for the SYSTEM which is staffed to the hilt under Hauer's swaggering leadership?

Symptomatic of debilitated leadership was the downtown (Duke Street) trustees canceling the upgrade and renovation and rejecting a million dollars in grants after spending $600,000 without even trying to raise $1.3 despite having over $3 million in an endowment fund.

Lancastrians will not be properly served until consolidation takes place, or at least until the Commissioners arrange to have an independent analysis made concerning how county library funding should be more fairly allocated.