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By RICK BOSTON
Staff Writer 

Roaring Spring Library Looking at Options for its Future

Library Has Community Support but Faces Expense Challenges

 

Rick Boston

Cortney Gensimore replaces books on the shelf at the Roaring Spring Community Library. With its lease expiring, and council wanting to transfer ownership of the building to the library, the library board is looking at options for its future.

According to a 2016 Institute of Museum and Library Services report, there are 9,057 public libraries in the United States, making up approximately 7.4 percent of the more than 120,000 libraries across the country.

The 9,057 public libraries include library systems, which could have multiple locations, making the total number of buildings which house a public library at more than 16,000.

Public libraries, are, as the name suggests, supported by the public, along with some government financial support and grants. Keeping the doors to a library open is a daily struggle taken on by people who refuse to see their community lose this free public resource.

The Roaring Spring Community Library, which has been housed in the historic Eldon Inn since 1966, is now faced with more than just raising funds to keep the doors open, but the prospect of losing the building those doors lead to.

Borough Wants Out

The Eldon Inn is owned by Roaring Spring Borough Council, which has allowed the library to use it rent-free as part of its contribution. In turn, the borough has absorbed the cost of liability insurance and has on occasion helped with maintenance.

In October of last year, borough council informed the library board that it no longer wants the responsibility of owning the building, offering to sell it to the library for $1.

On the surface, the opportunity to own a building at such a low price seems like a bargain. But library officials say owning the building outright may cause a financial burden on them, forcing them to look elsewhere to house the library.

Council President Bill Brumbaugh, at council's November meeting, said the borough is concerned with the liability that comes with owning the building, and that it no longer makes sense to keep it.

"There is no upside to owning it," he said. "If somebody were to get hurt, they would be coming after us."

The announcement from council that they intend to relinquish ownership of the building caught library officials off guard, leaving them to scramble to find ways to either stay in the Eldon Inn or find suitable accommodations elsewhere.

Library Board President Fred Hetrick said there is a concern about how to afford the upkeep on the building without the borough's help.

Brumbaugh said the borough would still help with some of those costs, stating, "from our point of view, it would be the same as it is now, we would help."

The lease between the library and the borough expires on July 1, and council has stated that it will allow the library to stay in the building on a "month to month" lease, giving library officials time to look at their options.

Looking at Options

Michelle McIntyre, director of the Roaring Spring Community Library, said in light of the council's decision to give up ownership of the building, she has been working on a solution that would be in the best interest of the library, whether that means taking over ownership of the Eldon Inn or moving to a different location.

The board recently enlisted the services of architect Judy Coutts of Altoona to do a feasibility study to determine what the costs would be to make any repairs the building needs and to make any necessary updates.

"We did a walkthrough with Judy and she gave us a proposal for the services she would offer to us," McIntyre said. "We had to find the money to pay for the study and that took several months."

McIntyre said that once the board gets the report from Coutts, it will have a better understanding of what they are facing, a "jumping off" point on how to proceed in securing the libraries future in Roaring Spring.

"Once we receive the feasibility study, that will give us a solid foundation for a strategic plan, something to work with," she said.

Part of the study, McIntyre said, is looking throughout the borough for a building that could house the library if it is decided staying in the Eldon is not financially viable.

"The architect is looking into those options for us," McIntyre said.

McIntyre said the building is in need of significant repairs, and that although the borough is the buildings owner, the library has tried to make repairs when needed.

"Currently we know that the front porch and roof need of repairs and that estimate to fix them came in at $30,000," she said. "While the borough owns the building, we did as much as we could to keep it up."

McIntyre said council has been involved in helping with repairs, such as tarping off a section of roof that blew off and helping find a donor to replace it.

Issues with Owning

Along with Hetrick's concern about the cost of maintaining the building, McIntyre said there are many other disadvantages to owning the building outright, including a decrease in state funding.

"Part of the fact that the borough has us in their building goes toward our local financial effort," she said. "Being that we would own the building, we would actually receive less financial effort from the state because part of council's contribution to us is the use of the building, so the potential is we could receive less state funding."

McIntyre explained that because the library is essentially there on the good graces of council and doesn't pay rent, they apply the cost of them being there as a donation, and that when she sends the state the library's annual report, the free use of the building is reported as an "in-kind" donation. When the borough relinquishes ownership of the building, the amount reported for the use of the building will be eliminated, lessening the borough's reported financial support.

"We have to maintain so much local financial effort per year and so the monies the borough has put into this, or by letting us be here is part of our local fundraising and we have to maintain so much of that a year," she said.

The borough makes a yearly financial contribution of a little more than $6,000, and Brumbaugh has previously stated they will continue to do so.

More Than Books

McIntyre said keeping a library in Roaring Spring is important not only to book lovers, but to the community as a whole, as its services have expanded beyond checking out books.

To keep up with quickly changing times where everyone can access a wealth of information, and download entire novels without needing to leave their homes, libraries have had to expand the services they offer, becoming more than just a "building with books" to what McIntyre calls a "community hub."

"We reinvented ourselves," McIntyre said. "Our mission has changed from just books to more of a hub community center. More of a social services industry."

While patrons can always check out books, McIntyre said the library has evolved into a place where the community can turn to for help in times of need.

"Yes, we provide reading materials for everybody," she said. "But we are finding people are coming to us not only for those reading materials, but for guidance on things like how to apply for rent rebates, helping people get to the right contacts for senior housing, even people needing clothes and shoes for their children."

McIntyre said when she began noticing people coming into the library looking for help, such as a woman last winter who was in need of boots for her child, she realized the library could be a valuable source of helpful information for those in need.

"Maybe they need to apply for a job online but don't have internet access at home? They can do that here," she said. "We are providing a community service for a lot of people. "Whether it's people who just moved into the community and don't know where something is, or a parent coming in looking for clothes for their children. We know how and where to get those things."

"

Pinching Pennies

The Roaring Spring Community Library needs $98,336 per year to keep its doors open. Last year the library received a total of $43, 689 in support from government bodies, including $24,715 in state funding. The rest is comprised mostly of private donations and money raised from fundraising.

Operating on such a tight budget, McIntyre said she works daily to cut corners and make the most out of what is available.

"I comb though the bills every month," she says. "If I see something that doesn't look right, I call right away to settle it."

While gas and electric bills are for the most part non-negotiable, McIntire said she regularly has caught charges on the phone bill that she has been able to negotiate down, or removed completely.

Appealing to the public to donate supplies is another way McIntyre saves the library money, and said they can use just about anything people have to give. Stamps, cleaning supplies, paper products and even sidewalk salt are some of the things people donate.

"Every Wednesday we put a list of things we need on our Facebook page," she said.

Fundraising is an important source of money for the library and McIntyre said they are constantly looking for different ways to hold them. From dinners to silent auctions, the library usually always has a fundraiser of some sorts going on.

"We go outside the box thinking how we can raise money," she said. "We have been running at least one, if not two or three at a time which are bringing in small amounts of money."

The library sent out its annual appeal last fall, which netted just $1,900, or about a 1-percent return. McIntyre said that is typical of the amount the appeal usually brings in, which is why getting creative with fundraising efforts is important.

Not Closing Down

Mcintyre said she has heard the rumors throughout town that the library is closing, but said that is not the case.

She said she believes the rumor got started when it was reported that borough council pays all the library's bills, which she thinks may have led to a decrease in donations.

"I think it was a misunderstanding of words," she said. "Council does not pay the bills for the library."

The borough does absorb the library's water and sewage costs along with garbage removal. The library also asked council to help cover the cost of an unusually high gas bill kast year, and although they didn't pay it all, they made a significant contribution toward it.

McIntyre said she doesn't think council will want this issue to drag out too long once the lease expires, but is hopeful they can work together to find a solution that will work for both parties.

"I am hoping there is a middle ground we can meet by showing them that we are continuing the conversation and looking at options," she said.

As for the future of the library in Roaring Spring, McIntyre said there will be one, somewhere.

"I would say we are going to keep this place open no matter what it takes," she said. "I can't guarantee we will be in the same location down the road, but we are here and we are not going anywhere. There will be a public library."

 

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