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Library will fight on despite proposed funding cuts — again

March 7, 2012

Staff members — (from left) Judy Hampton, director Coral Ellshoff and Jane Parente — of the Punxsutawney Memorial Library keep checking out books and other materials for the people that patronize the library. (Photo by Larry McGuire)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Libraries in Pennsylvania are facing yet another five-percent budget cut from Gov. Tom Corbett’s new fiscal year budget proposal.

“I think the state does alright by us, considering that all of the libraries are caught in dire straits right now with the proposed budget cuts,” library Director Coral Ellshoff said.

“I’m not saying that I welcome a five-percent cut in state funding; I think it’s understandable,” she said. “Where it creates an imbalance, the local governments need to pick up the slack.”

Ellshoff said compared with the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania libraries are well-funded.

“However, we’re in the bottom 10 as far as local government support,” Ellshoff said, noting, however, that the Borough of Punxsutawney has a certain amount of millage and does a great job of supporting the library.

According to Punxsutawney’s tax levying ordinance for 2012, the library will receive 0.60 mills to maintain and aid in its maintenance.

“Even though Punxsutawney does a great job in supporting our library, we serve 12 municipalities in Jefferson County,” Ellshoff said. “There are six libraries in the county, and we serve 34 percent of the population.”

Ellshoff said the Punxsy library serves the townships of Banks, Bell, Gaskill, McCalmont, Canoe, Oliver, Perry, Porter and Young; and the Boroughs of Punxsutawney, Timblin and Worthville.

She said Punxsutawney gives the library $6 per person, while the others give pennies per person.

“We appreciate everything we can get, but there’s a big disparity between what Punxsutawney gives us and the rest of the municipalities,” Ellshoff said, adding that is going to be the main focus, not only through advocacy and fund-raising efforts, but in how it can better serve those other municipalities.

Ellshoff said students are given library cards based on whether or not they are living in the Punxsutawney Area School District.

The library is committed to growing programs and making sure there are events and activities for all age groups, despite the cut in state funding, Ellshoff said.

“One of the cutbacks is there will be fewer magazines, and we are cutting back on reference materials,” she said.

If someone comes into the library looking for a book on prescription drugs, for example, the library staff sends that person to an online source.

Ellshoff also noted that the library no longer purchases encyclopedias for use as reference materials. All encyclopedias now have their information available online, but the Punxsy library does not subscribe to those resources due to the expense.

There are some resources online that cannot be trusted all of the time, Ellshoff said, noting that if someone uses Wikipedia or some other source on the Internet, he or she should double check the references.

“If someone is looking up medical information online, you would want a reputable source, not just Wikipedia,” she said.

“We subscribe to a set of online databases through the state, which is also getting cut back,” Ellshoff said. “We might have to pay a little more for those databases to make up that deficit, Those Web sites have a very reliable drug database where we would help someone find what they’re looking for.”

She said half the young people who are writing a career paper usually wants a book, while the other half is happy to use a database source. The papers they are writing require reputable sources other than those online.

“Five percent of the Web is all that is seen on Google,” Ellshoff said. “The other 95 percent is under the cover of passwords. The library pays for it so you won’t have to.”

Also, despite the proposed cuts, the library isn’t looking at cutting back on services.

“We’re already at bare bones; there’s nothing more to cut,” Ellshoff said. “Volunteers run the programs and service the computers and the book shelves. There hasn’t been anything to cut back on for 10 years; we’re just trying to keep our legs under us.

“We’ll keep the doors open; the board is commited,” she said. “We want to continue to grow and maintain services for children especially with more education funding being cut,” Ellshoff said. “At 3:30 p.m., after school is out, there’s a huge influx of kids that come into our building to partake in our services.”

She said the library’s annual report from last year showed that its patrons were split into two equal halves for computers and books or magazines.

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