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Reasons for optimism cited on Greensburg Hempfield Area Library's future

Jacob Tierney
| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 11:18 p.m.

As Greensburg Hempfield Area Library tries to figure out its financial future after a tax referendum that failed in four of six communities , leaders of other area libraries that faced similar challenges say there's reason for hope.

“I'll use one word: Fabulous. We have the past two years been very, very fortunate in that we are a library that is relevant and responsive to the community's needs,” said Debbie Iszauk, board president of the Monroeville Public Library, which had a failed tax referendum in 2014.

Several area libraries have asked voters to approve taxes over the years, with mixed success.

Despite its defeat at the polls, Monroeville Public Library has seen circulation rise and offers more programs than it did several years ago, Iszauk said. She attributes the success to strong grant writing and fundraising efforts, as well as a focus on catering to what constituents want.

“There's this whole idea of turning outward. It's not what we want; it's about listening to the community,” she said.

The library created a new Maker Space, revamped its teen program and offered new programs in local schools and assisted-living facilities in response to feedback, according to Iszauk.

“The library should act as an agent of change in the community,” she said.

However, Monroeville's financial situation was never as dicey as Greensburg Hempfield Area Library, which regularly runs at a deficit and predicts it will be out of money in about six years.

In 2015, the most recent year for which statewide data is available, the Monroeville Public Library's revenue was more than double Greensburg Hempfield's, despite having fewer cardholders.

Greensburg Hempfield Area Library has time to look for solutions, said Cesare Muccari, executive director of the Westmoreland Library Network and former director for Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.

“The fact that they won in Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg is certainly a big help,” he said. “If I were involved in it, I would have a positive outlook. And if you're asking me does it have a future, I would say yes.”

The new tax will take effect in Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg next year and is expected to bring in about $115,000 annually.

The important thing is that the library staff and board remain proactive about planning for the future, Muccari said.

“You can't just sit on your behind and do nothing,” he said.

The Greensburg Hempfield Area Library board meets next week.

John Chrastka, director of Illinois-based nonprofit Every Library, said Greensburg Hempfield's referendum bought valuable time.

“They are not in a do-or-die situation today,” he said. “They do not have the luxury of time; they have the responsibility to use that time.”

Every Library consulted with Greensburg Hempfield Area Library on the referendum and may continue to help the facility seek additional funding if asked, Chrastka said.

Sewickley Township Public Library stepped up its fundraising efforts after its failed referendum in 2011. It has managed to keep going because of donors who contribute year after year, said library Director Mandy Luchs.

But the constant search for revenue isn't easy, Luchs said.

“We're pretty small — much, much smaller than the Greensburg library, so our overhead cost is lower. But it's still a lot of work to keep the lights on and the doors open and the books on the shelves,” she said.

Luchs estimates she spends about 75 percent of her time working on fundraising.

“I would much rather spend my time doing other parts of my job, like programming,” she said.

However, she doesn't think another referendum is in the cards.

“We're kind of doing our own thing and making it work,” she said.

Greensburg Hempfield Area Library leaders have said they may try another referendum after waiting five years, as required by law.

Library leaders are focused on what's next, board member Brenda White said.

“You never know what's going to happen in the future. I think good things are going to happen,” she said. “This is something the board is going to have to discuss and decide — how do we best utilize the income we do have for the people we serve.”

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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