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Update on SLPL Board Meeting

This evening the Southern Lehigh Public Library Board met to, among other things, consider the proposal that had been presented to them by Lower Saucon Township Council via Treadwell.

About 25 mostly LST residents showed up for the meeting. I believe the Librarian said that 16 spoke. It was about that number (At SLPL Board meetings, they let any concerned citizens speak – imagine that!). They also reported that they had received 68 emails, all but one of which were from LST residents opposed to the proposed partnership between LST and SLPL.

After considerable discussion, at about the 1 hour mark, they refused to accept the proposal. This is a correction from previous wording. Because of some difficulties that the SLPL Board has in defining who are and aren’t voting Board members, they did not vote down the LST proposal. What they did was fail to accept it. Since there are no other SLPL Board meetings scheduled prior to the May 4 deadline that the LST Council demanded, the proposal “shall be deemed to have been rejected” in the words of Treadwell who sent the letter. Same difference, but in the interest of correctness, this is the definition of what really happened.

I wish I could say the story ends there, but unfortunately it doesn’t.

Wandering in the Wilderness

At first it seemed that the problem was that they just couldn’t leave it at saying a flat-out “no.” Instead they spent almost another 1 1/2 hours trying to come up with all kinds of other possibilities and workarounds. A number of proposals were made and voted down. But as time wore on, it seemed as if the biggest concern was the enormous pressure they expected to get from some of their funding bodies for turning down $250,000. I’m sure that’s exactly what LST was counting on when they made the offer.

It also became clear that there is a lot of frustration on the part of the Board that their funding bodies have exactly no understanding of the complexities of library law and funding in the Commonwealth. They mentioned a number of ridiculous, unworkable suggestions that have come from members of those various groups that display a total lack of comprehension. In addition, they are clearly frustrated by the fact that the groups applying pressure are not even bothering to learn about any of these complexities nor have any of them come up with their own proposals as to how such a partnership might work. These funding groups are just saying “Just take the money.” It doesn’t work that way.

That puts the funding groups in the same category as the LST Council whose proposal was, frankly, ridiculous if you know anything about the library laws, the functioning of the OCL, and what is even possible.

And so they have decided to hold a meeting of their Board to which they are inviting their own funding organizations to come and – and this was the best part – after the funders have educated themselves about the details and the law and the complexities of libraries – make helpful suggestions as to how this might work in order to perhaps provide the basis for a counter-proposal to LST. At least I think that’s what the final motion looked like. It was all very confusing.

So for LST residents who don’t want this merger to happen, there’s some breathing room. And for the SLPL Board members, they can get this off their agenda for a while and focus on the things they really care about, like their own library. And the knuckleheads who keep making these unworkable proposals and applying this inappropriate pressure can take some time to learn about how much they don’t know.

An Actual Original Creative Idea

Through all of this muddle, the President of the SLPL Board, Candi Kruse, actually presented an original, creative approach to resolving a bunch of contiguous problems. Her suggestion, which she said she had already discussed with the HAL Board and gotten their interest in pursuing the idea, was that the Boards of the two libraries – HAL and SLPL – put together a working group to study if or even whether it would be possible for the two libraries to merge into what would basically be a two-site library. In other words, take all the funding for both libraries and use it to support one library system with two branches.

This has a lot of positives to recommend it. More operating revenue; maximal utilization of two existing buildings instead of having to build one out and leave one half-used; two community hubs for programs; economies of scale; residents could continue using the library that each person prefers. Those are just a few pluses that I came up with in about 15 minutes of thought.

Of course there are a zillion obstacles and questions in the way. Would OCL let the two combine across county and library region lines? SLPL is currently in an 11-library consortium in Carbon and Lehigh Counties. How would this affect that? Is this even possible given that other consortium? Would all those libraries have to agree? And those are just the known unknowns. I’m sure there are many other unknown unknowns. (Thanks, Rumsfeld)

But a working group of the two library boards, people with their heads screwed on straight, dedicated to a thriving library system and without ulterior motives, could work through all of the possibilities and impossibilities of such a merger. And THEN — once all those possible roadblocks had been worked out — they could meet with all the various funding organizations and lay out a well-thought out, OCL-blessed legal structure for merger that would provide financial stability and restore the sense of community, even expand it, that has been so seriously ruptured in the last year by LST’s actions.

And by then I’m sure we’ll be after November 2023.

President Kruse did make a motion similar to this which was voted down but sitting there listening to the meeting, I’m not convinced that all the Board members heard what she was saying. And frankly, it’s a big creative jump from where they had just been – haggling over an insultingly under-researched and condescending piece of tripe. Or maybe it’s just too soon to go there. But I applaud the creativity of the proposal and the possibilities of success that it represents. I hope they return to the idea.

And if after long and thorough research and discussion by people of goodwill, if it still can’t be done within the confines of PA library law or OCL bureaucracy or the shortsightedness of elected officials or somebody’s ego, then the two library Boards can walk away knowing that at least they tried and we’re all in no worse place than we are today.

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