In the latest edition of the Lower Saucon Township newsletter that is mailed to residents each quarter, the township offers to reimburse residents who purchase a library card up to $40. However, many residents are apparently unsure where–or how–to join a library.
A Facebook post in a newly-created Lower Saucon Township group includes a photo of the newsletter item, which doesn’t explain why purchasing a library card somewhere may be necessary or list any nearby libraries that are selling cards to nonresidents, on their own or under some type of agreement with the township.
“I called five area libraries,” wrote Robin Socha, who created the post. “Three said NO to buying a membership. Two Bucks County libraries ‘think’ I can get a membership.”
In Pennsylvania, access to most public libraries and their services is via the adoption of funding agreements with local libraries. Once a municipality has such an agreement–as Lower Saucon Township has had with the Bethlehem Area Public Library and had, from 2014 til earlire this year, with the Hellertown library–in place, it is then considered its “home” library. By law, that status allows residents to not only access their library’s resources, but also to utilize many other libraries’ resources via the state’s Access network.
“To be eligible to participate (in the program), Pennsylvania residents must live in a municipality that supports a state-aided public library for its residents (as outlined in the Pennsylvania Public Library Code),” the State Library of Pennsylvania website states.
Since Lower Saucon Township currently has no library funding agreements in place and will be removed from the Hellertown Area Library’s service area effective Jan. 1, some residents are now trying to find and purchase their own library cards, seemingly without much information on where to do that and without guidance about how or if they will be able to tap into the Access network. Without municipal support for a state-aided library and in accordance with the provisions in the Library Code, any library cards purchased by Lower Saucon residents may in fact only be useful at the institutions that issue them.
At least two libraries–the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Reading Public Library–offer free library cards to all state residents. Both libraries have extensive online resources available, however neither has a physical location that is nearby.
According to information on the Bucks County Free Library site, nonresidents of Bucks County “who do not otherwise qualify for a free card” can purchase a library card for a fee. “Some electronic resources may not be available to non-residents due to licensing,” the site notes, and “non-resident fees are reviewed annually by Bucks County public libraries and are posted on the website together with the library fine and fee schedules.”
The 2022 BCFL fee schedule lists the price of a 3-month library card for nonresidents at $25 and a 12-month library card for nonresidents at $35.
The closest Bucks County Free Library branch is in Quakertown, about 20 minutes’ drive south.
Some township residents are questioning why officials are willing to reimburse up to $40 per library card when–under a rejected agreement with the Hellertown Area Library–the annual per capita cost for library services would have been roughly a quarter of that.
“If they can reimburse everyone this money, they could just pay Hellertown Library the money and be done with it,” commented Courtney Renee-Andrews Kay on Socha’s post.
A majority of Lehigh Valley municipalities have agreements in place with local public libraries that afford their residents access to both those libraries and the state’s network.
According to an Aug. 5, 2019 document “Municipalities Not Supporting Public Library Service” published by the State Library of Pennsylvania, just 12 of the state’s 67 counties were home to at least one municipality that didn’t fund a library. As of 2019, four Lehigh County munipalities–Heidelberg, Lowhill, Lynn and Weisenberg townships–and six Northampton County municipalities–Freemansburg, Pen Argyl, Stockertown, Tatamy and Wind Gap boroughs and Plainfield Township–were on the list. Between the two counties, approximately 32,000 people lived in a municipality that did not fund a library as of 2019; so with a two-county population of approximately 675,000, less than five percent of Lehigh Valley residents lived in a community that wasn’t funding a library.
The 2020 Census recorded a Lower Saucon Township population of just over 11,000 people, meaning it could soon be the largest Lehigh Valley municipality on the list.
In the recent township newsletter item about library services, residents who join a library for a fee are instructed to bring their receipt, library card and proof of residency to the township building for reimbursement. “We will issue a refund of up to $40.00, which will be mailed to your home,” the newsletter says.
At Lower Saucon Township Council’s Dec. 21 meeting–which saw council vote 3-2 in favor of controversial zoning changes that pave the way for a major landfill expansion–several residents told council they are upset about losing library services, although the matter wasn’t on the meeting agenda. At the end of the meeting, council solicitor Linc Treadwell said he hadn’t yet received notice from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries that the township is being removed from the Hellertown Area Library’s service area.
Treadwell also said he understood that the Southern Lehigh Public Library board had recently agreed not to turn any Lower Saucon residents away from the library, but admitted to council that he was not exactly sure what that meant. The council previously approved a $50,000 donation to the SLPL, which its board accepted over the summer, however a study of whether expanding the SLPL’s service area to include Lower Saucon Township is apparently in limbo due to the fact that two conditions the board put on council in order for it to proceed have not yet been met. The Hellertown Area Library board of trustees voted to reject a similar donation from the township earlier this year, when it was offered in lieu of the new five-year agreement that council failed to adopt.
Treadwell did not discuss a motion council approved in January, authorizing legal action against the Hellertown Area Library if it refuses to provide library services to township residents, and it remains to be seen whether such action will be taken in the new year.
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