If you’re a Lower Saucon Township resident worried about losing access to the staff, materials and programs at the Hellertown Area Library after today, you can breathe a little easier knowing that the library’s board of trustees has extended whatever access it can for another month.
The announcement was made Monday, on the last day a twice-extended agreement the township has had with the library since 2016 is in effect. Citing dissatisfaction with how the new agreement was negotiated and how it would be funded, Lower Saucon Township Council voted 4-1 earlier this month to donate $50,000 to the Hellertown library instead of approving a new 5-year contract with it that would have provided the library with about $110,000 a year. At the same meeting, council also voted to donate $50,000 to the Southern Lehigh Public Library and to authorize taking legal action against the Hellertown library if township residents are denied access after the current agreement ends. Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon opposed the decisions by the other four councilors.
The majority of township residents who have spoken before council at several recent meetings during which the library agreement was discussed have also strongly advocated for a new agreement between the Hellertown Area Library and the township. Many have also said they fear losing access to the Hellertown library–and through it, other libraries in the area as part of the statewide ACCESS program–if no agreement is in place.
The letter written by Hellertown Area Library Board of Trustees President Ken Solt indicated that a decision Sunday by the library board to authorize staff “to continue providing full library services which are under our control to all Lower Saucon Township residents through Feb. 28, 2022” essentially amounts to a stop-gap measure.
It also doesn’t necessarily guarantee total access to Hellertown library services by township residents, according to the announcement, because the decision to allow certain services to be used ultimately rests with state and district library officials.
“Conversations with representatives of our library district as well as those at the state level are ongoing,” Solt said. “District-wide services including, but not limited to, cloudLibrary and interlibrary loans continue, but only at the discretion of the district and state. In addition, negotiations are to continue between representatives of the library and Lower Saucon Township Council with the hope that full services can continue long into the future.”
“During this time the staff will continue their high level of service to both Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township patrons without regard to their residency,” he added.
At a special meeting held last week, Hellertown Borough Council voted unanimously to commit $75,000 in American Cares Act funding as an emergency appropriation to the library. Council also voted to authorize the drafting of a new year two-year agreement with the library separate from the agreement it approved late last year in response to Lower Saucon Township Council’s rejection of the agreement.
Hellertown Borough Council is scheduled to meet this evening–Monday, Jan. 31–at 7 p.m. in-person and online to vote on the new library agreement that has been drafted. Residents of both municipalities may participate in the meeting on Zoom as well as on the borough’s Facebook page.
The Hellertown Area Library began as a volunteer effort in 1989. Lower Saucon Township was then in an agreement with the Bethlehem Area Public Library, which it ended to enter into an agreement with the Hellertown library beginning in 2014.