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July 30, 2014, 3:16 pm

Free Library seeks to close budget gap

The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation is asking people to help it meet its fundraising goal of $6 million.

“We’re getting very, very close, which is wonderful,” said Melissa Greenberg, vice president for development at the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. “We expect that we will reach our goal and exceed it.”

The library relies primarily on small donors.

According to Greenberg, the foundation has 5,000 donors, typically a library user who gives small donations.

This year, in response to a growing number of online users, the foundation reached out to potential donors in its first ever email campaign.

“We’ve never reached out before in this fashion,” she said. “We’re out there a lot more letting people know they can be supportive.”

Donors are asked to give as little as $35.

The email was sent last week, as library officials prepared for the end of the fiscal year. The city and state both provide funding on a calendar that begins July 1. Library officials have stepped up their campaign as the year closes out.

The foundation raises private funds to augment the city’s funding.

“We raise all the private dollars that enable all the things that happen in the libraries to happen beyond what the city pays for,” Greenberg said.

City dollars cover the library’s basic operations, but the foundation provides the money needed to flesh out its programs and added services, like after school programs, summer reading programs, author events, festivals and its growing e-library programs, which includes e-books and music.

Library funding remained level in this year’s city budget. State funding has declined slightly. Falling funding has been the norm over the last five years.

“Our funding over the last five years has been reduced 19 percent,” she said.

Overall funding, which includes state and city funding, has dipped from $51.8 million to $42 million since 2007. Spending on materials, primarily books and electronic resources, has dropped 45 percent from $8.6 million in 2008 to $4.2 million this year.

Falling revenue comes at a time when demand for services is up.

“Big city public libraries have rarely been as popular as they are today — and rarely as besieged,” concluded a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Hard economic times have generated increased demand for the services libraries provide, even as they have fewer resources with which to meet these challenges,”

According to Pew, as funding has fallen, use has grown. It’s now estimated that 51 percent of Philadelphians use the public library.

The Free Library of Philadelphia has had 11 percent more visits since 2008, it reported, and circulation was up 12 percent. Use of library computers is up 80 percent.

“City residents now see libraries, particularly neighborhood branches, as multipurpose community centers, offering business services, tax assistance, safe havens for children after school, and places where immigrants can learn English. And libraries still lend books and DVDs,” said the Pew report.

Those facts underscore the importance of private donors.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts, “reduction means that a lot of things that used to be paid for by those public dollars are now even more so being paid for by private donation,” she said.

 

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .