Shhhhhh. There’s a dirty little secret among East Shore moms.
Children’s library programs fill quickly during the first hour of registration, said Jacquie Buskey, a Lower Paxton Township mother of three kids under 7.
Libraries have had to raise their own funds to make up for reduced tax money. Book sales, miniature golf tournaments and 5Ks are becoming the norm as libraries struggle to keep important programs.
“All the moms in the area don’t talk about it because we’re all competing against each other,” Buskey said.
Libraries — like many of us — have to do more with less these days.
State funding to libraries was cut 20 percent in 2010.
“We never really recovered from that,” Dauphin County Library System spokeswoman Karen Cullings said.
These days, library funding is a patchwork quilt of endowments, grants, fundraising, state and county funds and users fees.
Fundraising occurs at all midstate libraries, said Bonnie Goble, director of the Cleve J. Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill. Goble’s library puts on a 5K race and turns the library into a miniature golf course to raise funds.
“Nobody wants to cut back. The demand is ever greater,” Goble said. “In order to provide what we think is needed, we have to look for alternative revenue sources.”
Library systems in Dauphin and Cumberland counties have had to cut hours and budgets for books and other materials. York County libraries have consolidated services as much as possible.
“We have cut back almost entirely on programs for adults, and we have severely limited outreach programs,” said Rich Bowra, executive director of the Dauphin County Library System. He said it has cut staff nearly 7 percent since 2009.
Through that, Dauphin County libraries have managed to increase children’s programs and make them meet state education standards. But they have reduced class sizes, which resulted in waiting lists that Buskey and other East Shore moms have noticed, Cullings said.
Perry County libraries don’t receive county tax money. In 2002, residents voted down a 0.145-mill real estate tax to provide money for the county’s libraries.
They’ve had to resort to user fees that range from $10 to $50 per year for people living outside their service areas, said Julie Cramer, library assistant at the Bloomfield Public Library.
“If they are from an unserved township, they usually choose not to get a library card. It’s a real deterrent,” Cramer said.
In contrast, Fredricksen Library must expand to keep going, Goble said.
“We want to be the gathering place for our six municipalities,” she said. “We want to be the community center for those 80,000 people.”
Her library has a revolving door of programs for toddlers, knitters, gardeners, world travelers, movie lovers, and children who need help with homework or who want to read to dogs.
The attempt to hold a farmers market there was one idea that fell flat, but the Bee Local program, a combination honey and local foods festival, won a $10,000 prize from the American Library Association.
“People can get books elsewhere. We need to gather them here for things they couldn’t get elsewhere, on their Kindle,” Goble said.
Technology has changed libraries. They used to buy books, movies, magazines. Now libraries need to figure out what to spend on electronic books and audio, too.
“It makes it very challenging,” said Jonelle Darr, executive director of the Cumberland County Library System, which allocated $20,000 for electronic books this year and then spent only $5,000 or $6,000.
“We really have been keeping pace with technology,” said Deb Sullivan of the York County Library System. “We’re working hard to remain relevant to the community and give the community what they need.”
People can get online, order an e-book, read it and renew it without ever going to the library.
And while libraries see demand for their services increasing, they don’t see government funding keeping pace.
“I don’t see that government funding will grow in the future,” Goble said. “I think we’ll be lucky if it stays revenue-neutral. So it’s up to us to find revenue elsewhere.”