The End For An Historic Library?

Sometimes it takes the threat of an important part of life being taken away, to realize it exists in the first place. That’s how it felt when I googled The Mount Holly Library and Lyceum, and realized I was eligible to take out a card and borrow books. It’s open to all who live in Burlington County, NJ. At least for the moment. Because this historic body, the fifth oldest in the state, is threatened with closure in the New Year if funds are not forthcoming. The local newspaper, The Burlington County Times,  alerted residents to the possibility of closure by January 1 in today’s edition. Alicia McShulkis, vice president of the Mount Holly board of trustees said that unless someone has some ideas for funding, the library can no longer subsist. The director of the library, Michael Eck believes they have a small window still, and they wouldn’t close until “later in the year” but “without township support, we aren’t going to make it.”

The library is privately owned and depends on township money as well as grants, donations, and fundraisers to make up the $85,000 needed to keep the library open and the three employees paid. It is a member of the county library system, which is why it was allotted over $11, 000 by the county last year. If the library became a ‘branch’ of the system they would be eligible for more county funding, but the county isn’t interested in acquiring more branches at this time. The township itself is struggling financially, as are most little municipalities in New Jersey. “We don’t have enough money to fill a pothole, let ,alone fund a library.” said councilman Rich DeFolco.  Deputy Mayor Tom Gibson explained if they had a referendum for an 1 cent tax increase to county residents the library would be sufficiently funded. But the idea never made it to the ballot. And knowing how over taxed New Jerseyians are already, even 1 cent may not make it through.

What’s so important about this library staying open? What’s important about any library existing? If you need to ask that question, you clearly don’t read. Or if you do, you are of a financial situation you can buy books and wouldn’t need to borrow any. But a vast amount of people are not able to do just that. They depend on the library for reading materials, online access (believe it or not, not every American is born with a Mac and an Iphone), DVDs, and copiers. The library provides 10,000 books. And contrary to popular belief–or–just mine, checkouts have increased, not decreased since last year. More people are using the library. Naturally, that means it will close.

How the mansion looked back when.

Rich DeFolco doesn’t want that to happen. “That’s a crucial piece of downtown history. It’s time to work together.” I’m sure I’ve passed by the library during jaunts to the historical town of Mount Holly. I was born in a hospital there, and visit their lovely shopping district in Mill Race Village quite often. Handicrafts, a well known restaurant, Robin’s Nest, and various gift shops line the little streets. Mount Holly is not a rich community. Unlike nearby communities Moorestown (2.5%) , or Mt. Laurel (3.6%), Mt. Holly has 12.2% of the population below the poverty line. Which doesn’t create much of a tax base for something most people would say isn’t a necessity. It isn’t–not like energy or food-stamps-any life sustaining program. But literature is food for the mind and soul, if I can be as cliched as possible. Cliche it might be, but it’s also true. Without access to the worlds that are opened through lit and history, and poetry, and plays, and bios, and philosophy, and reference, and children’s readers, our civilization cannot advance. School classes cannot fill all of these needs. Nor can the internet, if one is able to connect to it.

“The Mount Holly Library, originally known as The Bridgetown Library, was chartered on June 11, 1765 by His Majesty George III of England, through William Franklin, then Governor-General of New Jersey.” (Illegitimate son of Old Franklin, and a Tory to boot) “Bridgetown was the original name of Mount Holly, so named because of the many bridges crossing the Rancocas Creek. The original collection, of about 100 books of scholarly and moral instruction, is part of the present Lyceum Collection, along with the actual charter document.”

It was a private library, for who else? Rich men–until “in 1876, the Lyceum established a circulating library open to the public for a fee.” Later–“In 1921 the Lyceum joined the newly formed County Library System and became a free lending library open to the residents of Mount Holly.”  In 1957 the town held a fundraiser to buy a Georgian mansion to house the library. It’s been there ever since. “The Langstaff Mansion “was “L” shaped, with a foyer separating the four main rooms, each having a fireplace made of Prussian blue marble. Two antique

Moonlight Masquerade, something I wasn’t aware of in time.

chandeliers, one brass and the other silver, each covered with more than 2000 crystal baubles and drops, hang in the two main rooms. A large kitchen was located in the back with a summer kitchen located behind it (now used as the Library Office).”

Besides the books and historical collections, the library has specific spaces for  events–renting for a birthday party, etc. It is also home to musical events, and apparently, unknown to me, they held Moonlight Masquerades at one point–costumes, decor, and fun. Now, I’m even more peeved if this place is shut down permanently.

I have no solutions for the problem every municipality is facing these days. Naturally, I wish someone like Bill Gates might set his sights on the US for once, and donate money to various important things in this country. Saying that–it’s his dough, he can donate it where ever blah blah. Setting aside the pipe dream of someone with mucho dineros footing the bill, and the referendum not a possibility until the next voting cycle, how can something as small and yet as vital as this wonderful library stay afloat? I’m all for brainstorming some kind of fundraising event–but how much realistically could that raise? Perhaps enough to keep it running for a few more months as more options for funding the library are explored, including more fundraisers. Maybe–instead of a woman on a bus being verbally harassed by obnoxious kids getting a gazillion bucks via Facebook and Indie GoGo, an appeal could be made to the public on behalf of the library. Hopefully, no one need be humiliated or debased for people to care. However, if that’s a requirement–maybe we’ll need to stage a book burning to rouse the sympathy of people. Yes, that’s sarcasm. But I’m sure I’ve made my point. I’ll keep an eye on how this progresses, and come next week, I will be making a visit for the first time, with apologies for my late arrival.

Quotes are from The Burlington County Times, and the Mt Holly Library and Lyceum.