Bradford County commissioners propose advisory committee to help determine future of Pennsylvania library
The fate of the largest library in Bradford County, Pennsylvania is in the hands of three county commissioners. Some of the commissioners initially wanted to close the library due to its cost to the county.
The officials have since walked back those comments after receiving pushback from the community.
The commissioners held a public meeting earlier this month with a packed room of constituents. Many were there for the sole reason of discussing the Bradford County Library.
The agenda included a new item, to consider creating an advisory committee to discuss the current and future possible uses of the building.
The newly proposed advisory committee comes after multiple closed-door meetings and public press conferences discussing the intention of the county to close the library and possibly move the county’s Veterans Affairs Department into the facility.
In a joint statement, the commissioners said they want to do more for veterans, people with special needs, disabilities, and children. They also do not want to raise taxes to support the library system.
Additionally, officials discussed disbanding the Bradford County Library and disbursing $25,000 each to the remaining eight libraries in the county library system on an annual basis for a total cost to the county of $200,000. There are currently nine libraries in the county.
“My hope is that everybody comes together and gives the people involved, whatever [the] structure this committee looks like, however many people or whoever they are, that allows them to gather factual information,” said Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller. “Engage with the different entities that use that library on a regular basis and want to use that library on a regular basis, that they allow them to gather the actual, factual information and come to a reasoned, thoughtful future of what that may look like going down the road.”
Rebecca Troup-Hodgdon is the interim director of the Bradford County Library. She said an advisory committee could offer a chance to save the library.
“I think that forming a committee will slow down that process, if not stop it,” Troup-Hodgdon said. “Hopefully, there’s valuable feedback and data that proves that this library is offering valid, valuable resources to the community. So, that is an improvement from being told by the commissioners that it’s a done deal, and it’s definitely closing.”
In 2022, the total circulation for the library was 57,169 materials. It offered 62 youth programs, 21 adult programs, 1,155 public computer sessions and 294 visits per month from people with special needs.
Its operating budget is $460,000 per year, according to the county commissioners. The budget includes the operation of its bookmobile and salary of at least two librarians with a master’s degree in library science, as required by the State Library of Pennsylvania certification for public library operations.
The library’s bookmobile currently serves home school students, public school students, and senior citizens. It has 46 stops and covers nearly 1,200 square miles monthly.
In addition to county funding, Troup-Hodgdon explained the library has received grants, state aid and donations from the community. She said the county can do more to fund and sustain funding for the library.
“There's definitely money coming into the county that they are free to re-allocate and move around as they see fit in order to provide the services that they deem are essential to our communities. And I would argue libraries are definitely essential to the communities,” expressed Troup-Hodgdon.
The money to which Troup-Hodgdon was referring to is from the American Rescue Plan Act and Act 13 impact fees from natural gas producers in Pennsylvania.
“We're the only free space that is accessible to 100 percent of the population,” she said. “It's one place that you can go and there is no expectation that you're going to spend money. You can stay here as long as you like, you can use our Wi-Fi or computers, you can ask for help. There's knowledgeable staff here to help you. That's just not available anywhere else. And in a rural community where access to technology, the ability to afford internet, that's really difficult for a lot of people.”
The Bradford County Library’s cataloging system calculated a $601,094.59 cost savings to members who checked out materials instead of buying them new in 2022.
There is no confirmed date when the advisory committee will be formed or the names of the people who will participate.