Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Commissioner Lehman Listens to City Library Concerns

By Cliff B. Lewis

Yesterday County Commissioner Craig Lehman attended a meeting of the Board of Lancaster Public Library (Duke St). This was the first in his tour of all the county libraries, which will continue into the summer.

Lehman explained, “I thought it was a good time to get out and visit with the different libraries to really get a sense of what you all are facing. My instincts tell me that, since every library in Lancaster County is unique, you’re probably all facing different stuff.”

Tuesday’s visit yielded a lively and substantive discussion between the Commissioner and the City Library’s leadership.

During the meeting, Board Memeber John Havrilla described the problems encountered by the library: “…We are an urban library, an inner-city library, as opposed to a rural or suburban library, and to some degree, we have our own set of needs that are unique…”

Board President John McGrann asserted that these unique needs are not being matched with appropriate funding. Based on a rough analysis of County Library System funding, the City library has seen a 35% funding decrease between 2006 and 2008, while the rest of the County libraries experienced a funding increase of around 40%.

The Board attributed much of the funding problem to an inadequate formula employed by the Library system, which is driven by factors such as circulation, collections, local financial effort, and a share that is distributed generally to all local libraries. The formula, however, does not account for the needs of the City library, where books are often used in-house and do not as easily influence circulation numbers. Also, the current formula does not sufficiently recognize the City library’s unique use of public computers.

Treasurer Karen Haley Field recommended serious consideration for a restructuring of the Library System. The current organizational structure is a “Federated” system, in which each library has its own board which then sends one representative to the County-level board. Field recommended the implementation of a consolidated system where each member library in the County would be treated like a business branch. In this system, all government funds could go into “one pot” which could then be distributed by expert leadership with an eye toward the individual needs of each member library.

Commissioner Lehman did not agree with the notion of reorganizing the Library system, but recognized the need for changes:

“I think it’s a nice theoretical idea, I just don’t believe that it’s a very practical solution here in Lancaster County. I think part of what makes each library unique is that fact that they are connected to their local communities, and I think the best we can hope to do is figure out how to keep our Federated system and make it work the best it can…. I think our challenge here is, how do you collectively come together to make what we have work the best that we can?”