By: Marsha Keefer
Faced with an ever-shrinking budget, Terri Gallagher, director of the Rochester Public Library, resorts to creative thinking to offset the losses in her attempt to keep the doors open.
Sometimes, she feels like a huckster peddling purses and jewelry, selling raffle tickets to Steelers’ games, conducting paranormal investigations of the Civil War era building, and hosting Victorian teas or champagne poetry nights with Robert Frost.
Though a firm believer that library programs should be free, Gallagher realizes that additional income must be generated to continue existing programs, buy books and computers, pay staff and maintain the building on Adams Street.
Since she took over as director seven years ago, Gallagher said the Rochester library has lost about half its government funding, now operating on a $60, 000 annual budget, because of cuts at the state level and an eroding local tax base.
“That’s huge,” she said. “That’s huge. Trying to make that up is so difficult.”
The situation, however, is not unique to the Rochester library.
Fifty-seven percent of libraries noted flat or decreased operating budgets in fiscal year 2011, up from 40 percent in fiscal year 2009, according to the American Library Association.
Half report insufficient staff to meet patrons’ job-seeking needs and 65 percent report having an insufficient number of computers to meet demand. A study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as reported by the Daily Beast, said 274 public libraries closed between 2009 and 2010. “It’s gotten really close, “Gallagher said of Rochester’s situation, running on what she calls a “bare-bones strategy.”
Many libraries, Rochester included, have been forced to scale back resources, lay off staff, and operate on reduced hours, unfortunately at a time when services are needed most, she said.
In the last decade, ALA said library visits have more than doubled.
Gallagher agreed. Most of her patrons are regulars, and she knows them by name.
“Hi, Earl. How are the grades?” she asked an adult learner entering the library to use its online resources.
“It’s like ‘Cheers’ without the beers,” she said, referring to the regulars at the Boston bar portrayed in the NBC sitcom that ran for 11 seasons from 1982 to 1993.
Students and adult learners who don’t have access to home computers frequent the library to do online research or take online classes. The unemployed and underemployed tap into the library’s free Internet to look for jobs and submit applications or use its software to create resumes. And sadly, some, Gallagher said, are homeless seeking temporary comfort.
Besides loaning books, offering technological support, Wi-Fi access and children’s programming, the Rochester Public Library plays host to a number of clubs and organizations.
“The Girl Scouts meet here, Rochester High School Alumni Association, Beaver County Ghost Hunters, tutors, Grace Lutheran Book Club,” Gallagher said, ticking off the list.
The community, she said, has changed considerably.
“We don’t have a huge tax-support base.” She estimated borough revenue at about 30 percent. Fifty-two percent of students in the Rochester Area School District qualify for free and reduced-price lunch programs, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“Getting financial support is a struggle, a total, hard, difficult struggle.”
While the Rochester Public Library may lack government support, it certainly isn’t lacking community support.
Last year, the library launched a campaign to sell customized bricks both as a fundraiser and to build an alfresco patio for Wi-Fi users and readers.
“It sounds crazy, but so many buy furosemide 40 mg online people during our off hours come by and sit on the bench using Wi-Fi,” said Gallagher, because they can’t afford wireless connections at home.
“Their hours don’t always gel with the library hours, especially when we’ve had funding cuts.”
She and the board decided to create an outdoor patio “to make it nice for them,” though she feared “I’d be carrying bricks out here by myself,” realizing it would be unthinkable to spend money she didn’t have.
Early last month, Gallagher and a few board members were assembling a 4-by-8 letter-board sign to be used to advertise library events. But when it came time to move the sign to the front of the building, it was too heavy and they needed help.
“We weren’t musclemen,” Gallagher said. She called Dennis Denkovich, owner of nearby Regal Enterprises, who, with his family, has been a longtime library patron.
After the sign was in place, Denkovich wanted to know more about the brick campaign and patio plans.
Gallagher explained her vision of a small, hand-dug pad, overlaid with sand on top of which bricks would be placed.
“I didn’t know he’d be laying the bricks,” a surprised Gallagher said. “He got everything in here. The next thing I know, there’s digging equipment, people rigging electric, a cement truck, landscaping. He called other business owners and they all came.”
Denkovich brushed off the accolades. “It’s the community pulling together. It’s that simple,” he said. “If you read, you see the world I figure,” explaining his support of the library.
Denkovich recruited architect Pete Blackwood of Blackwood & Associates Inc. of Canonsburg to sketch plans. Blackwood also arranged for landscaping. Denkovich sent his work crew, headed by Carl Sodergren, to excavate. Pat Carcaise of Carcaise Construction in Rochester, and his father, Frank, helped, too, along with Terry Nocera, owner of TLN Construction in Darlington.
T.L. Ferguson of Chippewa Township donated gravel. Ed Richards of Beaver Concrete & Gravel Co. donated cement. Yesco Electric provided supplies. Michael McCartney, Joshua Carr and Joe Carcaise helped, too.
“I felt like I was on HGTV,” Gallagher said. “The library didn’t have to put a cent into it.”
“Amazing,” said Howard Begley, library board president. “I think it’s fantastic,” noting that the library received support from not only within, but outside of the community as well.
With donated materials and labor, Begley estimated the patio project would have cost $25, 000 to $30, 000.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Gallagher said, so overwhelmed by what the volunteers did. “We work hard and to have something here like that happen is tremendous. It’s turned into something lovely.”
When finished, the library will be flanked by not one, but two brick patios, one 6 by 12 and one 12 by 12.
The front landscaping – with raised, mulched beds filled with boxwoods, azaleas, pachysandra and two shade trees – is finished.
Enough bricks – about 200 – have been sold to fill the smaller patio and volunteers started seating them Nov. 9. To finish the larger space, however, 600 more bricks must be sold.
The adobe-colored pavers sell for $50 and can be engraved to honor or memorialize individuals, businesses, school classes, even pets, Gallagher said. Order forms are available on the library’s website, at the library or by calling 724-774-7783.
“Since 1922 we’ve been here and we want to stay here at least another 90 years,” said Gallagher. “We’ll keep struggling to get the support we need.”