Charleston County residents love their libraries, but buildings need work

Beth Johnson of Mount Pleasant uses one of three self-checkout stations at the Mount Pleasant branch of the Charleston County Library. Johnson estimates that she reads roughly 10 books per week. “I love to read. I check out a whole lot of books,” she said.

Every Thursday afternoon, Lesly Lamb and her 10-year-old son, David, go to the Mount Pleasant Regional Library.

After David does his homework, they pick out books and movies for the weekend.

“It’s our day to renourish,” she said.

Lamb is a passionate library user, always taking time to look at the branch’s new offerings.

“We’re library junkies,” she said. “We’re more faithful to the library than we are to church.”

She is among the majority of Charleston County residents who think public libraries are needed and an important part of the community, according to a recent independent telephone survey.

But the county is desperately in need of new and upgraded library facilities if it is to continue to serve residents’ changing needs, said Douglas Henderson, executive director of Charleston County’s public libraries.

County officials now are working with library staffers to calculate how much money the library system will need for new and improved buildings, he said. They expect to have an estimate in January.

The county likely will go to voters with a referendum for money for new facilities in November 2014, he said.

The county has not had a referendum for libraries since 1986, Henderson said. Since then, its population has grown, technology has dramatically changed the way people gather information, and the library system offers more programs, especially those that help very young children develop skills that will help them learn to read.

Devon Moore regularly uses the computers at the Mount Pleasant library, which is the busiest branch in the system. He doesn’t have Internet access at home, he said. “My budget is tight, so I can use the Internet here.”

He sometimes has to wait to use a computer because they are so busy. He would like to see more computers in the libraries.

Moore, like many county residents, is looking for a new job. Most companies require you to complete online applications, he said. “People just don’t want old-school paper applications anymore.”

Henderson said future plans for the library system include four new libraries. One of those would be in the Carolina Park area of Mount Pleasant, near Wando High School. Building that branch would take some of the pressure off the Mount Pleasant branch, he said.

Branch Manager Cindy Schweinfest said the building was completed in 1992. At the time, Mount Pleasant’s population was 30,000. Today, 65,000 people live in the area.

Sometimes, she said, it’s difficult for people to find a place to park at the Mount Pleasant branch.

Henderson said other new buildings are needed in North Charleston, where the Cooper River Memorial branch will be replaced by a building in Shipwatch Square; the Hollywood or Meggett area; and along Folly Road on James Island.

The referendum also would include money to upgrade buildings and technology in many county libraries, he said.

He thinks a referendum would pass. “It’s just a matter of educating the public about what our needs are,” he said.

And county residents do seem to value their libraries. A recent telephone survey of county residents found that 91 percent of respondents said the library is an important part of the community. And 90 percent said there always will be a need for libraries.

They also said they use the facilities. Seventy-eight percent of respondents had used a library in the past year, and 75 percent had used one in the past six months.

Henderson and Library System Board Chairwoman Janet Segal said they hope for many future improvements in services, including:

Reduced waiting times for new books.

Quiet spaces in which people can study.

More programs to help children become better prepared to learn to read.

Special areas for children. Special areas for teens where they can use social media.

More community meeting rooms. Missy Firestone, a Mount Pleasant resident, brings her 5-year-old daughter, Alexandra, to the library regularly to pick up books. “We probably read two to three books a night,” she said.

They don’t take advantage of many of the library’s other services, such as computers, downloadable books, DVDs, CDs and special programs. But, Firestone said, that will probably change when her daughter begins kindergarten in the fall. “As she gets older, we will probably need more.”

Reach Diane Knich on Twitter @dianeknich or at 937-5491.