A district in northern Lancaster County says it will no longer fund its local public library, citing its financial needs and concerns about whether the library aligns with the city’s “conservative values.”
The Akron Borough Council cut spending on the Ephrata Public Library from $1.9 million the proposed total budget for 2023. He has not yet voted to ratify this budget.
Library executive director Penny Talbert says the funding cut would end 30 years of support from the community of about 4,200 people. Akron gave $20,000 to the library last year, roughly $5 per resident.
The money from Akron is a fraction of the library’s $1.1 million annual cost, but every dollar counts, Talbert said. Each year, the library combines funding from a variety of sources, including $180,000 from the state and a significant amount from donations.
Adding to her frustration, the drastic cut comes after weeks of borough council members saying the library “doesn’t reflect Akron’s conservative values,” Talbert said.
“I don’t understand where it comes from. I am proud that we have a good, extensive collection. I think we take this responsibility to represent everyone very seriously. It saddens me that they believe that.”
The library is a popular place for children and teenagers in rural Lancaster County, where some people don’t have internet access. Talbert said more than half of the city’s residents have used a public library card in the past three years.
None of the seven members of the Akron Borough Council responded to requests for comment. But Minutes of the meeting on October 10 — posted shortly after a request from WITF — show board member Paul Swangren Jr. “requested a review of the positions” of the library’s finances to ensure they were “consistent with conservative values.”
At the meeting, about 10 people spoke in defense of the library’s role in the community, and Swangren “thanked the visitors for coming and sharing their views,” according to the minutes. “He says he understands the value of the library and the purpose. He understands the need for donations and transparency.”
“It is his responsibility to be fiscally responsible to taxpayers, and he has requested a static review of finances that is consistent with conservative values,” the minutes said. “He was uncomfortable with money going to women’s health classes because it was about sex.”
Swangren also opposed The Northern Lancaster Hub, a library program that “was created to meet the unique social service needs” of people in two local school districts. according to its website.
The councilor also said the library’s Talk Tank — a free mental health service that connects people with a therapist — is “not working” and costs taxpayers money. WellSpan Philhaven provides the Talk Tank service, which is financed by a resident of the district.
Swangren, who did not return calls to his residence, “also wanted to know what non-salary expenses the library had and whether the public could view them,” the report said.
Councilwoman Bonnie Young agreed with Swangren, adding that she doesn’t want to raise taxes, doesn’t like some of the library’s programs and is concerned about the budget and inflation, according to meeting minutes.
Threats to cut funding to public libraries “based on ideology or a single set of values” happen from time to time, said Christy Booker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association. However, libraries have a responsibility to make information widely available to all people in society.
“When you look at the mission of the library in a broader sense, many people will understand that not all items in the library will be interesting, and they can choose the items that fit their personal values,” Booker said. “However, they do not have the ability to restrict or limit the items available to others based on their personal values and beliefs, except for their own children.”
Libraries in Pennsylvania must develop a “collection policy” that determines what books they purchase, Booker noted. This policy is approved by each library’s board of trustees, which is part of the community.
A meeting of the city district will be held on November 28. It is not yet clear whether the council will then vote on the budget.