Library should start now getting public support for improvements
The people of Charleston County like their public library system, and they want to see it expand and improve. So says a professional, independent study undertaken last year.
In order to maintain what the public likes and provide improvements they need or want, a bond referendum will be necessary in 2013 or 2014.
Douglas Henderson, library executive director, detailed plans for the future of the library system in a recent roundtable discussion at Johns Island Library and raised the issue of a referendum, which County Council would have to authorize. The last one was held in 1986.
Before a referendum is held, library officials will need to remind people of the ways the library system benefits the community: It encourages a love of reading and learning; it offers programs on a wide variety of topics; it assists people in job searches and other research; it is a source for books, CDs, DVDs, and they are a source of entertainment and enlightenment.
And in order to be successful, the library also will have to avoid public relations blunders like the one the administration has been dealing with after purging thousands of books from the collection without adequately explaining to the public what it was doing and why.
Library users (there are 267,000 library card holders now that the staff wiped out cards that hadn’t been used in three years) were distressed to find entire units of shelving, once full of books, gone.
The administration’s explanations that the books that were purged hadn’t circulated in three years or were outdated or worn didn’t satisfy them. They like browsing through stacks and coming across a book — maybe an old one — they didn’t know existed. They might have used the book without checking it out, leaving the staff to consider it uncirculated.
And they didn’t want to see their library turn into an Internet lounge — ebooks at the expense of real paper books.
They were told some books were “rotting on the shelves” and employees were troubled by dust from the tomes.
Couldn’t a good dusting have taken care of that problem?
But the people of Charleston County can, and should, get over their frustrations if the library continues to provide efficient, friendly service and the books and other materials they want to use.
And the library’s five-year plan should stoke their enthusiasm. In addition to new technology, new books, expanded hours and better programming, it calls for new facilities to replace or complement existing ones.
Specifically, library staff are looking at a new library in north Mount Pleasant at Carolina Park, a new facility in the Hollywood/Ravenel area, one on the Folly Road corridor on James Island and a new library as part of North Charleston’s Shipwatch Square project (which would replace the Cooper River branch library). They began working with an architect last week by touring library facilities with an architect to assess needs and possibilities.
Some objectives are separate space for children; separate space for teen-agers; quiet areas for study; comfortable, casual seating; easy access for everyone; and, with new facilities, proximity to public transit and community gathering places.
And, we would hope, ample space for a well-maintained and comprehensive collection of books.
The ambitious building and growth plan could be what it takes for Charleston County Public Library users to love their library — and to enjoy its volumes — even more.