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Recession-Proof Library Funding? We’ll Drink to That

Columnist has been living at libraries since gods of technology snatched her Internet service.

The gods of technology are angry in last week’s column and have been withholding the Internet from my home.

In my defense, I said some nice things about Facebook too – hear that cyber gods? – but also that the storm and blackout showed how people need to cultivate flesh and blood friends. Our electricity came back on Wednesday after the storm but we still don’t have a working Internet, television or landline telephone. 

Lack of WiFi at home has led me to spend a good chunk of every day at Starbucks at the South Mall in Allentown and in public libraries. This is what I’ve learned: 1) There truly is a limit to the amount of coffee one person can drink; and 2) Public libraries are among the unsung heroes of our age. 

At the Emmaus and Allentown libraries, I’ve joined scores of regulars and blackout refugees using the computers and Internet service for work, job hunts, school and leisure. These places virtually hum with activity.

were pretty lean operations before the recession and a few years of state budget cuts and flat or reduced funding from municipal governments have made them anorexic. On election night, Whitehall Township voters approved a dedicated tax increase to keep the Whitehall-Coplay Public Library in business, but that’s a rare win for libraries. 

Recently, The Morning Call asked readers if power companies should compensate customers for their losses during the outage. Assessing each customer’s damage would be a long and complicated process since it varied greatly and would be tough to document.

But it would show a real community spirit for PPL and other power companies to contribute a nice-size donation to organizations, such as libraries, that helped their customers through the outage. The “PPL Children’s Wing of the Emmaus Public Library” has such a nice ring to it. 

Still, libraries need a recession-proof source of funding. So here’s my plan: Libraries could start selling high-priced coffee and pastries or, better yet, hard liquor. Back in my waitressing days, restaurant managers urged us to be very attentive to customers’ drinks because that was where the restaurant made the most profit. 

If libraries had liquor licenses, they’d never have to worry about funding again! A round of gin and tonics and Proust for everyone! Alcohol might actually make some of us more ambitious readers -- there are authors I’d hesitate to tackle without a glass of Chardonnay. 

You can foresee problems of course. Story time could get a bit dicey. 

But I’m pitching the idea anyway because libraries are such public treasures and I’m grateful the one in Emmaus has let me set up shop until my Internet service returns. 

I’m thinking the gods of technology might be appeased for my Facebook critique if I sacrifice some old manual typewriters or perhaps a record player. Just don’t make me burn my DVD of “The Social Network.”

Jenae Holtzhafer November 10, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I'm laughing out loud as I sit at the Creamery reading this. Great stuff, Margie! Thank you for showing your support. I've grown up going to the Emmaus Public Library and have the fortune of raising my kids there. My husband takes them no less than once a week for a new batch of books. Children's story times with Martha Vines are cherished memories for us. As you said, libraries are essential for folks of ANY age. I agree ... adding the 'drink' factor could certainly boost business. How can we make it happen?!
Erin Harris November 10, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Margie, thanks for the support of libraries. At Lower Macungie Library last week, we went from a normal people count of 400 or so a day to over 800 on Monday. If you consider that many "powerless" people stayed for the majority of the day, that's quite a lot of people in here! If you walked around our library that morning through the afternoon, complete strangers were sitting next to each other, as every seat in the place was occupied. Every outlet was charging a cell phone, laptop, tablet or some other device, with some people even camping out on the floor near the outlet to work. People using our wifi, taking advantage of the warmth, using our public computers (which we had to limit time... something we normally only have to in the summer) and of course... reading. During Irene, we had a mom without power use our break room in order to puree food for her baby. These are the "un-sung" qualities of a library... the open to all, regardless of your resources. Libraries give, give... and then give some more. I write a Patch blog for our library and posted an article a few weeks back called "Libraries are NOT Dead" that talked about how libraries are adapting, and we are. The traditional services like lending, readers advisory, reference, and storytimes are of course used frequently. I have full preschool and baby storytimes that people often just "show up for" trying to get in if the signup's filled.. but it's situations like this that show a different level of value.
Cassandra Yorgey November 10, 2011 at 05:31 PM
If there was a library that had unlimited internet and served caffeinated beverages and food... I might never leave it.
Margie Peterson November 10, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Thanks Clint, Silagh, Didi, Jenae, Erin and Cassandra. Clint and Erin make good points about the diversity of people who use libraries. Years ago I stood with then Allentown Public Library Director Katharine Stephanoff on the second floor looking down at the main floor of her library. There were people of all races and ages at the computers, reading books and doing work at the tables. She called it "the last vestige of the village green." It's great to hear, Erin, that your library was such a haven for so many during the storm and outage. I hope the public remembers that when Lower Macungie Township is considering the library's funding.
Glenn Nelson November 10, 2011 at 11:05 PM
I am glad that Whitehall got their priorities straight. Let's just hope that with new board members like Vic Mazziotti, who does not believe spending is in the scope of government, apparently, does not get his paws on county funding to the new south Whitehall library.

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