The J.C. Holliday Library in Clinton is fast running out of space and library officials are seeking not only to renovate the facility to make more room for patrons participating in any number of activities there, but expand to offer many more services.
Heather Bonney, library director for Sampson-Clinton Public Library System, told county managerial staff and the Sampson County Board of Commissioners that the library has a few key issues that it will have to deal with over the next five years.
Changes in citizen usage of the library and its services have been studied thoroughly and brought about a need for a transformation of sorts, she said.
“Patron demand for online databases, downloadable e-books and e-audiobooks, wireless access, small meeting rooms and study rooms and public access computers is growing significantly each year,” Bonney stated. “I have the opportunity in the next few years to apply for a grant to hire a consulting firm to do a community study to determine which services the library should focus on to serve our patrons better. The buildings as they exist now barely have enough room to host the services and materials we have presently.”
She said space has already been converted to provide more computers, increased children’s programming and space for materials, but the library is “fast running out of options.” Wireless laptops have been purchased to maximize space available, and the number of available items (books, reference materials, periodicals, etc.) has been stuck at around 95,000 items.
“The situation has become untenable, particularly with the increase in usage both with computers and our traditional print resources,” said Bonney. “The trend throughout the country is toward more technology, and — particularly in the schools where they are not purchasing textbooks — people are relying increasingly on information accessed through the Internet.”
The decision to eliminate a meeting room at the Holliday Library has already been made in favor of providing more space for two growing departments — Children’s and Genealogy/Local History, said Bonney.
“In all of our branches, we are now at an impasse in regards to space,” she said.
None of the library facilities — there are four in the county — were constructed with computer access in mind, Bonney stated. All of the buildings are small, the largest being Holliday at 9,600 square feet.
“The maximum occupant load for all of the buildings have limited our summer reading programming ability to serve the children of our county,” the library director said. “For example, Bryan (Library) in Newton Grove is only supposed to have 40 people in the entire building at one time. If we have six people on computers and three staff members to take care of the children’s program and circulation, then we’re left with only 31 people being able to attend. And we’re not going to advocate that parents drop off their kids for the program or wait outside while we conduct it.”
Bonney said among the design changes needed for patrons, the Holliday Library requires those small meeting/study rooms; a larger room to accommodate growing children’s storytime attendance; and a computer lab to host a minimum of 35 computers along with scanning and printing services. Also on the wish list: a coffee sandwich shop to draw downtown business.
Libraries across the nation are going to that type of business model, Bonney said, and Holliday could lease space out to a vendor, in order to side-step staffing and training issues.
“We constantly have requests for private meeting rooms from lawyers and businessmen who have stopped by to interview a client or check their email on their way to or from the town square,” Bonney said. “As we are within walking distance from the courthouse, were we to be able to get the space, downtown professionals and visitors could benefit by being able to stop by to enjoy a specialty cup of coffee with a danish while reading the papers we stock or using our wi-fi access. Parents who bring their kids to storytime, could relax in the coffee shop after picking and checking out a title to read. The possibilities are endless and exciting.”
The expansion would take time, effort and resources, but Bonney said her grand re-design, which she offered as part of the long-term planning urged by county officials, would lead the county’s anchor library in the direction she believed it needed to go.
“To do this, we would add onto the building out the back and (wrap) around the building toward Graham Street,” said Bonney. “Patrons would be required to park in the public parking across the street. The additional space would have the computer lab on the bottom floor with glassed-in small meeting/study rooms at the back, designed to house no more than 4-6 people.”
That way, she said, staff in the computer lab would be able to monitor both areas simultaneously.
“The top floor would have a space for an administrative office and the rest would be devoted to the state and local history/reference area,” Bonney detailed. “The old section of the library would be renovated to convert the old administrative offices to an expanded children’s room with area for a storytime, and the old state and local history room would be perfect for the library cafe.”
Bonney said there is no timeline for such an expansion, but it is simply an idea for the future. That idea came to Bonney when she read that the Holliday building was actually constructed with the idea of eventually expanding out the back to move the children’s room.
“My ideas at this time are just that, ideas — a vision for the future. While I am fervent in my desire to expand our services to our patrons, I am infinitely practical in practice,” she said. “I do not see the ability to do the expansion in the near future without establishing some type of organization with the express purpose of raising the money for the construction.”
The branch libraries undoubtedly have needs too, the director said. More parking and more room for computers are just a couple of them.
“These however are even more out of reach than at the Holliday branch, for all practical purposes, because the branches are maintained by the cities in which they are located,” she said. “Anything done to these branches would have to be initiated and carried by those towns in cooperation with the county as we would have to supply all new materials and any new staff needed to support such an expansion.”
Along with the need for more space, Bonney outlined another necessity for the library system that would be rearing its head in the next couple years — replacement of the 1998 Bluebird bookmobile, which she called “the first and biggest issue” with which the library is confronted.
The typical lifespan has been estimated to be anywhere from 10-15 years and the Bluebird is nearing the back end of that life. Bonney said library workers have maintained the vehicle well and the county’s relatively flat landscape and lack of severe weather has given the bookmobile more longevity. Additionally, it was taken off the road for more than a year amid budget cuts several years ago.
“Conservative estimates taking these factors into account would have me recommend we replace the bookmobile in 2015, which puts it at 17 years old.” Bonney stated.
She said boosting another department line item for vehicle repair and maintenance could further delay that replacement until 2018. The library’s primary van will also have to be replaced in about four years. At the end of this year, the van will have around 104,000 miles. A minimum of 13,000 annual miles would put the mileage at close to 170,000 in July 2018.
The bookmobile represents a large line item in itself, Bonney conceded.
“The cheapest estimate I received for a replacement bookmobile three years ago was over $175,000,” the library director said. “To my knowledge, grant funding is not aimed at this type of service, so I believe that the cost of replacement will rest solely with the county.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.