Thomas Hughes Reading Center to close

February 27, 2013
The Greene County Library System will close the Thomas Hughes House Reading Center in Jefferson at the end of March. - Bob Niedbala / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

JEFFERSON – The Greene County Library System will close the Thomas Hughes House Reading Center in Jefferson at the end of March to focus its resources on developing an outreach program geared toward seniors.

The system has been operating the reading center at the Hughes House since renovation of the historic home was completed in 2003. The center’s last day of operation will be March 28.

The board’s decision to close the center was not directly related to funding but was more an attempt to use the money the system has for the best purposes, said Therese Barry, system administrator.

“We just want to make sure we’re using the money we have to reach the largest number of people we can,” she said.

Libraries have experienced a reduction in state funding during the last five years, though funding this year remains stable. However, the system can’t afford to keep the center open while at the same time develop programs to reach a segment of the population that might be underserved, she said.

The center, which features a small lending library, serves about 150 to 200 patrons a month. Its costs are relatively high in relation to the number of patrons who use it, Barry said.

The county also currently has two libraries, Eva K. Bowlby Public Library in Waynesburg and Flenniken Memorial Library in Carmichaels, and the reading center was viewed as a duplication of services, Barry said.

The library system operates on a budget of about $71,000. The reading center, which was open four days a week, costs the system about $15,000 a year for staffing and equipment.

The system acts as liaison in regard to funding and library initiatives between the state and its member libraries, Bowlby and Flenniken. The system also provides supplemental services to the community. Reading centers traditionally have not fallen under the direction of library systems, Barry said.

The library system now plans to begin an outreach program aimed at older adults, an age group that has been missed and may be undeserved, she said. The two member libraries currently conduct outreach for children and young adults through children’s story hours and other programs, Barry said.

The new program could include providing additional library services at nursing homes and senior centers and possibly a program to serve older adults who are home bound, Barry said. The system will be hiring a part-time person to operate the new outreach program.

The system previously also operated a reading center in Jackson Township, which closed last year as a result of decline in use by patrons. It also halted operation last year of its bookmobile, which was a 22-year-old vehicle that had become too expensive to maintain, Barry said.

The Hughes House also has served as offices of the library system, which will probably move to an office in the Waynesburg area.

The Hughes House was constructed by Thomas Hughes, one the area’s early settlers in 1814, and is listed in the National Register of Historical Places

The building was restored by the state about 10 years ago at a cost of about $700,000. As part of the restoration, an addition was constructed to house the building’s restrooms and an elevator to the second floor.

At the completion of the renovation, the building was deeded to the county, which has leased the building to the library system for a nominal fee. The county also continues to pay utilities for the building.

County Commissioner Charles Morris said the commissioners were informed Tuesday that the center will close in March and the system will have its property removed from the building within 90 days.

Morris said the county will be exploring possible uses for the building. It also is reviewing the deed to determine if there are restrictions on its use or on the sale of the building, which may be considered should the county be unable to find a practical use for it, he said.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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