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Popular Westmoreland County book loan program regains legs

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 5:44 a.m.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the days often were quiet in the Delmont Public Library.

Too quiet.

Then the end of state budget wrangling and release of funds for public libraries brought a popular inter-library loan program back to life.

Denni Grassel, director of the Delmont library, sent an e-mail to patrons with the news.

"They are aware, and they are ecstatic," Grassel said.

Libraries throughout Westmoreland County noted a general spike in public interest when requesting a book moved to an Internet-based service almost two years ago.

The ease of ordering books online brought more people into the library buildings.

Peggy Tseng, director of the book distribution system based at the Monessen Public Library, said that when the system came online, her facility's workload doubled. Books are distributed five days a week from the district center.

Three people work at the Monessen district office to receive book requests. Five van drivers collect and distribute books to libraries in the county that participate in the program.

"We never really stopped," Tseng said of the state budget impasse that caused library funds to dwindle, forcing the shutdown of the county loan system. "The system they have -- the online catalog -- stopped, but that is only one of the things that we do."

Statewide and national loan systems continued to function, Tseng said.

Libraries still face a 20 percent cut in state support. Denise Sticha, director of both the Murrysville Community Library and Westmoreland County Federated Library System, said electronic database access will likely be reduced at Murrysville and other libraries to make up the difference.

Like most libraries, Murrysville depends on a mix of state and local funds. The federated library system, made up of about 20 participating libraries, also receives funding from Westmoreland County. Sticha said she has begun work on budgets for both organizations for next year. She is hopeful the county will maintain its support.

Access to electronic database information like that from Learning Express -- a training resource for academic tests from SATs to MCATs -- may not be included in next year's budgets, Sticha said. Bringing new material into the library in the form of books and DVDs also may be restricted.

"We're trying to deal with it," she said. "It's not as bad as it could have been. It's not a good economic climate, and I think everybody recognizes that the economy is just not there."

Grassel said the Delmont library will try to cover a loss of state funds with local money. She said the library received $8,800 from the state last year and expects to have to make up for the loss of $1,800 in next year's budget.

"We'll be selling a lot of cookies, and a lot of creative, innovative fundraising will have to happen in the next year," Grassel said.

None of the directors indicated library hours would be cut. Tseng said the Monessen library and district operations were run efficiently before the budget crunch hit.

"I have been running on a very lean budget," she said.

Sticha said she expects patronage of the online system will soon be back up to levels reached before the system was shut down.

"People were very understanding about the situation," she said. "They understood and hoped that it was just temporary."

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