Speaking to Pennsylvania librarians during a conference in Harrisburg in October, State Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York) promised to do everything he could to increase public library funding and bring it closer to the $75 million it was a decade ago.

So, when Gov. Tom Wolf signed the state’s new $34 billion budget on June 28, and it included an additional $5 million for the state’s public libraries, supporters rejoiced. Saylor had done it, many advocates believed. It was the first time since about 2006 that the state’s public libraries would see a significant boost in operational funding.

While it’s too soon to tell how much each of the state’s 470 libraries will receive, news of additional funding comes on the heels of City Council’s approval in June of an additional $3.5 million for the Free Library of Philadelphia. The move followed protests and complaints about frequent library closures, shorter hours, and long waits for books and materials. The Free library’s annual budget is $52 million, with $43 million coming from the city and the rest from the state and private donors.

Last fall, the Pennsylvania Libraries Association, headed by Christi Buker, sponsored the Harrisburg conference at which Saylor spoke. At the time, Saylor, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and is a longtime library supporter, discussed the importance of libraries and their role in education and in communities.

File Photo of Majority Whip Stan Saylor (R., York) as he takes the oath of office.
BRADLEY C. BOWER / Associated Press
File Photo of Majority Whip Stan Saylor (R., York) as he takes the oath of office.

Buker and Saylor spoke with The Inquirer this week about what the additional funding will mean for libraries.

We asked Buker:

How much was the increase for Pennsylvania’s public libraries?

The public library subsidy was increased by $5 million. So, we went from [a budget allocation of] $54.47 million to $59.47 million.

What is the public library subsidy?

That is state aid to [public] libraries … in Pennsylvania.

How will this funding increase help public libraries?

It’s going to help pay for staff, it’s going to help pay for the electric bill, it’s going to help pay for building maintenance, and all the other aspects, including internet, computer, and technology that libraries need to … help all citizens regardless of their wealth.

Why does this funding increase matter?

Libraries have been faced with increasing expenses, and they really haven’t had any more money to pay for them.… This increase will help them cover current expenses, and help them work toward restoring their operations. It’s not really enough for them to do major new things. This is just really to help cover the increasing costs that we’ve been dealing with without additional funds for so long.

We asked Saylor:

You seem so passionate about libraries. Why are they a priority?

I’ve seen the impact that libraries have had on people’s lives, from seniors to young children. In my own district, I have people who have internet access and people who don’t … so a lot of people are able to go in and do their resumés and work from there.… And young people can go in and do research.

Why does this funding increase matter?

This provides low-income families, seniors who are on a fixed income, opportunities to be able to do things that normally they wouldn’t be able to.… And in the city of Philadelphia, for instance, libraries are so critical because poverty is high. So this gives those families who are in poverty and low income, opportunities to get the resources for their children that otherwise they wouldn’t have.

Anything else?

I would ask local governments … officials, to please remember, the funding from the state is based upon matching funds from those municipalities. And I would encourage those municipalities not to devalue libraries. They should continue to fund and actually increase funding to the local libraries, because it’s so critical.