Long Overdue, Part 2 There Can Be A Happy Ending For Pa. Libraries.

Posted: June 16, 1997

Pennsylvania has the answer to the serious and growing problem of the state's underfunded, meagerly equipped libraries.

Why? Because every Pennsylvanian can take action - advocate for change, donate a book or a dollar - to fix the woeful imbalance between what residents need and what they get from libraries.

Short of money, due to a statewide phobia of mandates and a 19th-century aid formula, libraries are falling further behind as they try to meet their mission of promoting reading and literacy.

Change is due in Harrisburg, of course, but also closer to home. It's time for book-starved residents to swallow their local pride and join with their neighbors before the state's libraries lose even more ground in their race with the demands of the future.

Even as they clamor for political action, libraries - particularly small ones - can come together to form support groups, tackling common problems. They can team up to send a single representative to professional association workshops on public relations, fund-raising and marketing. They can share resources and jointly buy supplies.

Then libraries could market themselves as regional assets, a bona fide approach to raise outside funds. The Free Library of Philadelphia's multimillion-dollar grants from the William Penn Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts show that the ``value to us all'' appeal works.

Such ``radical'' changes may meet resistance. But Pennsylvanians need to shake the ostrich-like attitude that has made the state's library system an embarrassment.

Libraries do much more than just supply reading material. They help create and sustain a lifelong interest in literacy and learning. Libraries both stimulate and feed the hunger for information that's driving the economy. The notion that a state can expect to grow and educate young people without good public libraries is straight from the dark ages.

Push for more cooperation at home and more funding from the state. And ask Gov. Ridge to discuss the issue with his wife, Michelle. As a former librarian, she knows what the state is missing.

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