For more than two centuries, the Darby Free Library has remained both a vital part of its community as well as a historical landmark. Built in 1743 by Quakers, it remains the oldest public library in the nation. But a financial crisis has left it in danger of shutting down by the end of the year.
Currently 60 percent of Darby residents and 1,500 people a month regularly use the library’s services.
“I use the computer,” said Kiarra Powell. “If I need any books, they help me find my books.”
Yet despite the community support, the library is in the midst of a financial crisis. Recent state cuts wiped out $50,000 in the library’s operating budget.
“Money is scarce here,” said Darby library board president Jay McCalla. “We’ve been able to stay afloat and keep our doors open by doing things we didn’t want to do: cutting back on the benefits to our employees, and cutting back on books that we were ordering.”
While the budget cuts keep coming, the bills continue to add up, including a $7,000 electric bill employees at the library say they’re unable to pay. Many local families who rely on the library for resources are concerned about the possible closure.
“I grew up here, to be honest,” Powell said. “This is kind of like family. Hearing that it could be getting shut down, it really affects me and my son.”
McCalla is hoping that doesn’t happen.
“It would be a crime to lose this unique resource that’s not just unique to Darby,” McCalla said. “No other community in America has this library, the oldest in the nation.”
McCalla says they may have to make a decision on whether or not to close the library sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
According to McCalla, state and federal officials can’t give them money to keep the library open. Instead, the money must come from the Darby Borough or those willing to lend a helping hand.