Citing sharp reductions in funding, Ephrata Public Library on Wednesday announced severely reduced staff and services.

The library laid off half of its staff, canceled all free programs through the end of the year and cut hours to the state minimum allowed, executive director Penny Talbert said Thursday.

“We have never had to do this before. It's been heartbreaking for all of us,” Talbert said.

“I had to lay off 11 of my very best friends this week. They are so awesome — they are out speaking on behalf of the library and educating the public, which is what librarians do best.”

The cutbacks, which take effect this coming Monday, include closing the library at 6 p.m. instead of 8 on Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays, and shuttering the library entirely on Fridays and Sundays.

All public programs, including daytime activities for children and computer tutoring, are canceled for the remainder of the year.

The plan is to hit the reset button — restoring staff, hours and programs — as of Jan. 1, Talbert said.

But realistically, she said, that depends on the funding outlook.

“I’m putting together the most pathetic library budget for next year,” she said. “It’s very hard to make predictions. Every library is in the same boat.”

Bill Hudson, administrator of the Library System of Lancaster County, said directors of the county’s 14 public libraries met last week, and “a number of directors raised the specter” of funding shortfalls.

“It’s not just limited to Ephrata,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s as dramatic at other libraries, but I know several are looking  at trimming hours.”

Ephrata library’s operating budget for 2014 is $850,000. “But our budget next year could be anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000. It’s a fortune-teller’s budget. We just don’t know,” Talbert said.

“I’m putting together a budget based on the money I can guarantee for next year, and that’s about $300,000,” she said.

Talbert said she probably won’t know how much to expect from the state and municipalities until mid- to late December.

Joy Ashley, director of development for the library, said they receive about 20 percent of their funding from the state, 13 percent from municipalities in their service area and 1 percent from the county. The remaining 66 percent is self-generated, coming primarily from private contributions and some grants.

“We are holding our annual fund drive now,” Ashley said. “We have a very high goal for that — $80,000 — because we have no reserves. We’ve used them up.

“We’d like to start the new year with a reserve so we don’t need to start borrowing money.”

State funding has dropped some 50 percent over the past decade, Ashley said, and private donations are down to the tune of $47,000 this year.

Municipal funding has also been declining, she said. In fact, the state recommends municipalities fund the borough with $5 per resident, but the only one its service area to do so — Akron Borough — decided this week to reduce its payment in 2015 by 50 percent, down from $25,500.

Talbert said the decision to cut staff and services had nothing to do with Akron’s decision, which won’t affect library programs until next year.

"We've been dealing with these budget shortfalls for years,” she said. “This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem."

Library management made the decision to cut services about a week ago. The reduction in hours required approval from the state librarian in Harrisburg, Talbert said.

“Libraries cannot just cut hours during the year without permission,” she explained.

No other local libraries have announced similar cuts to date, although Talbert predicts more will do so — if not this year, next.

A “white knight” could restore all services, hours and staff to the library immediately with a donation of $80,000 to $100,000, she said.

“That’s a really scary number. I am just sick about this.”

The funding shortfall is despite several outside income streams, including a rental property, passport office, post office and an active Friends group that donated more than $52,000 in 2013.

Talbert will answer questions about the changes during a community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the library’s multipurpose room.

“This is not an issue of ‘We’re just not busy enough’ or ‘People don’t read books any more,’ ” Ashley said. “We are the busiest library in the county.

“But we need to come up with something, or next year we’ll have the same situation.”

People can donate to the library at Fundly.com/ephratapubliclibrary. The library is participating in the ExtraOrdinary Give Nov. 21.

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