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Halifax County Library board urged to find regional partner / October 17, 2013
Halifax County could gain tens of thousands of dollars annually for its libraries by pairing up with a neighboring county to form a regional system, Library of Virginia officials told officials this week.

If it opts for a regional affiliation, Halifax could probably choose among three potential partners — Pittsylvania, Charlotte or Campbell counties, said Kim Armentrout, a consultant with the Library of Virginia.

The financial reward for libraries that merge are substantial, due to differences in state funding formulas for local and regional systems.

Halifax could receive an additional $45,756 by partnering with Pittsylvania County or an additional $30,780 if it were to partner with Charlotte County, although neither county is actively seeking a partner. Affiliation with Campbell County could bring an added $35,627.

Armentrout and Carol Adams, assistant director of the Library Development & Networking, spoke to members of the Halifax County-South Boston library board on Tuesday. Also attending the meeting were County Administrator Jim Halasz, South Boston Town Manager Ted Daniel and South Boston Mayor Ed Owens, and councilman Bill Snead.

Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy and town council members Bill Confroy and Kristy Johnson also were present.

Armentrout opened the discussion by noting that Halifax had earlier been a regional library system until South Boston reverted to town status.

State aid for libraries, she explained, is based on a formula which takes into account the population of the area as well as the square mileage and the number of participating municipalities. The state allocates $10 per square mile for a single jurisdiction plus an additional $20 per square mile for regional libraries.

While the amount Halifax would receive by partnering with Campbell County would be less than with Pittsylvania, both Adams and Armentrout suggested the Campbell County would be the county’s best option, since it is currently seeking partners to become a regional facility. Both the City of Lynchburg and Bedford County are already included in Campbell’s partnership plan.

Both speakers stressed that the additional financial benefits were not the only advantages of regional status. They pointed out that regional libraries offer other non-financial benefits such as flexibility of returning items (something checked out a one branch can be returned at another). Also, one card can be used at multiple locations.

More importantly, regional libraries give access to a broader collection and for the poorer areas, they provide access to better quality materials and services for their patrons.

Questions were asked about what role local library boards would play in a regional partnership and how much control localities would retain over the operation of their facilities. Board members also wanted to know if a local library director would be needed if they decided to apply for regional status. (Halifax is currently advertising for a library director.)

Another question asked was about the procedure for applying for regional status and how long it might take to make the decision. Armentrout responded that she thought Halifax would need to decide within the next 12 to 18 months if they want to participate.

When asked about the disadvantages of becoming regional, Armentrout responded that the worst part was the work involved in setting up a structure for regional participation. “It takes a lot of time and effort — a lot of sweat and tears.”

Following the Tuesday session, Bee Edmunds Espy, chairman of the local Library Board, said “I look forward to exploring the possibility of partnering to see what is most beneficial for our patrons.”

Halasz said he feels it’s always good to look at opportunities that will provide benefits to county residents. But he added, “We will wait to see how the Library Board responds since they are much closer to the situation. Working together to share costs and enhance services is always good, but we have to be sure to get the partner that best suits our situation.”

Daniel said he felt the decision to move forward should be left to the local Library Board members, although he see little harm in further exploring the possibilities.

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