Fixing the Library Problem

While it’s morally satisfying to call out the repugnant behavior of four members of the Lower Saucon Township Council in their dealings with both township residents and other municipalities, and while it’s very important to continue to keep township residents up-to-date on what is happening, the reality is that it’s not moving the problem towards resolution.

To date the LST Council members (Mrs. deLeon always excepted) have dragged their feet, gaslighting us and showing exactly no interest in spending the time and energy necessary to resolve the problem.  They have deliberately obfuscated the issue with detours and sidetracks and flat-out lies. So I’d like to lay out a process by which we might actually get to resolution.

The Basics

With all due respect to Pastor Spohn’s well-intentioned attempt at mediation, the fact is that this problem is an LST problem, pure and simple. LST Council created the problem; they exacerbated the problem, and they have refused to deal with solving the problem.

Hellertown Borough and HAL have a functional bilateral agreement that delivers library services to Hellertown residents to both parties’ satisfaction for 2022.  Where they go for 2023 and beyond is up to them. If they have to continue without LST’s participation, that will be up to them to decide.

Before anything else, as a gesture of good faith, the LST Council needs to agree to 1) pay its budgeted support to HAL for the remainder of 2022 and 2) drop its threat to sue the library.  Without that minimal action, HAL should immediately cut off all services to LST residents for lack of payment.  LST budgeted $107,168 for HAL for 2022, or $8931/month.  Based on LST’s population, the state provided HAL with $22,968.  LST paid for one month of services for January.  The state money covered an additional 2.6 months of services.  That amount was exhausted on April 18.

Next, these questions need to be answered:

  • Do the residents of LST want library services?  We know that as of January there were 3,328 residents who were members of the library (2,513 adults/815 juveniles).  The 2020 census counts 11,094 residents in the township.  So 29.998% of LST residents held library cards.  Let’s call it 30%.  But that number doesn’t necessarily represent the number of residents who want to have access to a library.  There may be far more who at least want access even if they don’t currently utilize it.  And that number doesn’t include children who don’t hold their own library cards but use the facilities on their parents’ cards.  There hasn’t been a survey about library services since back in 2014? 2015? when LST cut ties with the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

So let’s get an accurate count. There’s a primary election coming up in a little over 3 weeks on May 17.  Let’s set up a table outside each of the polling places in the township and ask every voter one question:  Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?  Yes or No, as simple as that.  No complicating questions about how to pay for it or clouding the issue with “regionalization” or anything like that.

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

Collect each person’s name, address and how many people are in their household.  This will cover juveniles who cannot get library cards on their own.

After that, cross reference the responses with the resident lists and send a letter with a self-addressed, stamped postcard to every resident who has not responded on May 17 that asks: 

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

At the same time create a page on the township website where residents can respond to one question:

Do you, as a resident of Lower Saucon Township, want library services?

Set a deadline. Count up the responses.

  •  What is the minimum number of responses required for this to be deemed a valid survey?  And what is the minimum threshold that is required to pursue library services for the township?  0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, some other number?  The LST Council should be forced to set both these numbers before any results are tallied.
  • It is at this point that we come to a crucial question.  Does the LST Council even have any intention of providing library services to its residents at all?  It’s a legitimate question because up to this point, their actions (and remember, watch what they do, not what they say) have indicated that they are driving us down the path to losing all library services on December 31, 2022.

If they have no intention of providing library services to LST residents, they should be required to state that clearly before July 1, 2022, so that HAL will know not to include LST population numbers in their 2023 request for state funds.  If they refuse to state their intentions clearly and in writing before July 1, 2022, HAL should, for its own protection, not include the LST population numbers in their 2023 request.

If the answer is “no,” then let them take their chances at the ballot box in November 2023.

If The Answer is Yes

Step 1.  Agree to a One-Year Extension of the Agreement with HAL to Cover 2023

Step 2. Appoint a Library Committee

If the LST Council does intend to go forward with providing library services for its residents, the next question is:

What is the best way to provide library services?

In order to answer that question, the Council should appoint a Library Committee tasked with determining what the various possibilities are for funding library services for the Township.  The committee should be composed of township residents who are willing to commit the time and energy to investigate the various options and have indicated their support for the township providing library services.  The committee should NOT include:

  • Council members except for one Council liaison and that should be Mrs. deLeon since no other Council members have voted in favor of continuing library services to this point.
  • Members of the HAL Board
  • Employees of HAL
  • Members of Friends of HAL
  • The township solicitor

The following people should be asked to provide subject matter expertise if requested by the committee but should not have a vote on the committee:

  • Members of the HAL Board
  • Employees of HAL
  • Members of Friends of HAL
  • The township solicitor
  • Representatives from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
  • Representatives from other municipalities and libraries
  • Other subject matter experts as deemed necessary by the Committee

Step 3.  The Library Committee Charge and Deadline

Charge the Library Committee with determining what the various possibilities are for funding library services for the Township.  This might include but not be limited to:

  • Continuing a relationship with HAL on a bilateral basis
  • Reinstating a relationship with HAL in conjunction with Hellertown Borough
  • Implementing a library tax to support an agreement with HAL
  • Entering into a regional library arrangement which does not currently exist, dependent on the regulations of the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
  • Other configurations

Provide whatever funding and administrative support is needed by the Committee.

Set a deadline for the Committee to complete its work and submit its report.

Step 4.  Town Hall Meeting

Schedule a town hall meeting of at least one hour to hear the results of the Library Committee’s work and provide for public discussion of the options presented. Arrange for the meeting to be livestreamed or, better, available through interactive video.

Step 5.  Adopt and Implement One of the Committee’s Recommendations

Because the LST Council will have previously committed to providing library services to its residents, the Council will then be expected to choose one of the available recommendations and begin implementation as early as possible.

There you have it – one path to fixing the library problem.  I’m certain there are a number of equally viable possibilities as well as a number of tweaks that would make this path more effective.  Whether this is the best option or not, it is a process for movement towards resolution.  It is not a continuation of the foot-dragging gaslighting that we’ve watched since almost a year ago.  

It is the least the township residents should expect of their duly elected “leaders.”