Lower Saucon Township stopped paying Hellertown Public Library their annual $90,000 to $100,000, per an agreement between the two organizations.
Noelle Kramer, director of the Hellertown Public Library, said the loss of funds has left Hellertown Library struggling to keep operations on par with what they have been in the past.
Lower Saucon Township initiated the agreement with Hellertown’s library after they stopped funding Bethlehem Area Public Libraries in 2014.
Brenda Grow, branch manager at Bethlehem Area Public Libraries, said the fund withdrawal involved Lower Saucon deciding Bethlehem Area Public Libraries were too expensive.
“Now they’ve done the same thing to the Hellertown Public Library,” Grow said. “It’s just politics.”
Forced to cut back on hours, the library has been working with less staff since the beginning of the pandemic. Kramer said they were hoping to fill more positions but now cannot afford to.
“It’s obviously not sustainable, and we will eventually reach a point where we will have to start making large cutbacks, but for now, just smaller things,” Kramer said.
Hellertown’s library is selling library cards to anyone who does not have a home library, which now includes Lower Saucon residents.
Kramer said cardholders only have access to the services within the Hellertown Public Library because they will not be a part of the Access Pennsylvania Program. The program allows anyone living in a municipality with a home library to use their card at any library that accepts state funding.
Joyce Hinnefeld, vice president of the board of Bethlehem Area Public Libraries, said there have been people from Lower Saucon who have become angry at Bethlehem Area Public Library staff when their card does not grant them access to the library’s resources.
“They are misdirecting their anger, which should be directed at the people who made what they thought was a smart political decision,” Hinnefeld said.
Hinnefeld said libraries get an inadequate amount of money from the state, so they must rely on the local community and municipality’s willingness to fund them.
Janine Santoro, director of equity and inclusion in the mayor’s office, said the Bethlehem Area Public Library, particularly the South Side branch, does more than just lend books.
“The library was this kind of equitable space where you don’t have to spend money,” Santoro said. “You don’t have to do anything except exist and be there.”
The South Side branch has a partnership with the YMCA, which has a grant to provide food for impoverished community members. Grow said adults can come in on Tuesday and Thursday to enjoy the YMCA-provided food. She said they also have a partnership with United Way that allows the library to operate a summer food program for kids.
Bethlehem’s library also offers programs like story times, craft bags for adults and STEM-focused programs for kids.
Grow said during former governor Tom Ridge’s term from 1995-2001, libraries were well funded, but after his term, library funding has been consistently cut. This year there was an increase in state funding, but they’re still not back to the amount from 1995-2001.
“We’re slowly making our way back to where it should be, but funding is always an issue,” Grow said.
Kramer does not think Hellertown Library’s disagreements with Lower Saucon Township are indicative of state funding problems, but she does think it would not have happened if library services were consistent across the state.
“Would this situation have happened if we had a state library system? No, I don’t think so,” Kramer said.