Duke Street Business Center

Business reference librarians Renee Ortenzio, left, and Heather Sharpe work early this month at the Duke Street Business Center.

The Lancaster Public Library has ratcheted up its campaign to save business databases it says are vital to the development and sustenance of small businesses across Lancaster County.

Meanwhile, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry is looking at possibly subscribing to at least a few of the databases and making them available to the business community.

On its website, the city library is urging supporters to do three things:

1. Give money toward the $68,000 needed to maintain its business database subscriptions;

2. Sign an online petition to the commissioners urging a reconsideration of the December decision to defund the databases; and

3. Show up at the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday morning to voice support for the reconsideration.

The Library System of Lancaster County’s board of directors voted in December to defund the databases, citing limited funds and the need to shift resources to matters its member libraries identified as core priorities.

The vote was “one of the toughest things I ever did,” board member Terry Kauffman said Monday, but members were surveyed and the business databases at the downtown library’s Duke Street Business Center were not seen as a core function of the library system.

It was particularly tough for him, Kauffman said, since he had voted to create the business center as a commissioner in the 1990s.

The library’s introduction to its petition on Change.Org went up late last week and accuses the library system board of defunding the databases “unilaterally” and “without discussion.”

Kauffman and Terry Trego, president of the county system board, rejected that charge.

“It was talked about at public budget meetings for months,” Kauffman said.

And the board surveyed its members over six to eight months regarding what they considered to be core services, Trego said, and the business databases were not identified as a vital library service.

“We didn’t want to make the cut,” Trego said, “but with resources shrinking, we had to focus on the core functions of libraries.”

Heather Sharpe, a business reference librarian at the library, disagreed with that.

“This is a vital resource for entrepreneurs and small businesses,” she said Monday, helping small businesses research their customers and competitors, and giving entreprenuers the tools they need to decide whether to turn an idea into a business.

Sharpe stressed Monday that the Duke Street Business Center is staying open, no matter how the databases effort goes.

The petition to county commissioners had 56 supporters Monday afternoon.

Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said the decision to defund the databases was made by the Library System of Lancaster County’s board of directors.

The county will be providing no additional funds and he respects the decisions of the library system board, Martin said.

The library also launched a fundraising campaign that as of Monday afternoon had raised a bit over $10,000 from local donors, she said.

That includes a $5,000 conditional pledge by Lucille Meissner, a semi-retired tax preparer and former owner of ALM Tax Service, the “A” for “Alice,” her given first name and the rest her initials.

Meissner said her $5,000 is dependent on the campaign raising at least enough to pay for the most-used subscription, which runs a little over $30,000 per year.  

Told of Martin’s stand, Sharpe said, “We are very hopeful” the commissioners will change their minds.

Asked for a response to the databases, Commissioner Craig Lehman offered a different avenue for hope for those who use the business databases at the Duke Street Business Center.

“My understanding is that the Lancaster Chamber is looking into providing access to these databases to both members and non-members,” he said.

“I support giving that effort a chance to succeed ...,” he said.

Lehman was referring to a task force organized by the Lancaster Chamber after it heard from some members that they would miss the databases.

Cheryl Irwin-Bass, vice president and COO of the chamber, said the task force will make recommendations, probably within the next 30 days, as to which databases are the most often used and how to make them available to its membership and beyond.

“We’re really looking at this as a service to the broader business community, and we would not limit it” to chamber members, Irwin-Bass said.

 Asked about the chamber effort, Sharpe said the library was not invited to participate in the discussion, and added: “We offer free access to everyone in the community.”

The county budgeted $1.8 million for the county library system this year, plus $161,688 that is split among member libraries based on a formula. 

Related story: Lancaster Public Library board spars with county Library System head

Joe Hainthaler is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer who covers county government and addresses community problems in the Lancaster Watchdog column in the Sunday News. He can be reached at jhainthaler@lnpnews.com or (717) 481-6132. You can also follow@JoeHainthalerLC on Twitter.

Suggestions, corrections, clarifications, added information welcome