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Supervisors push back at $20 million request for outdated buildings
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Skeptical response to library merger
SoVaNow.com / March 13, 2017
Rumblings at the Halifax County government level about consolidating library branches in Halifax and South Boston have set off alarms within the library system itself.
Library Director Jay Stephens, in a Viewpoint letter printed in today’s edition, took issue with a statement last week by county supervisor J.T. Davis that merging the library branches at a single location would produce cost savings for Halifax County.
Stephens noted that the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System receives $282,500 from local government sources — the Towns of Halifax and South Boston, and Halifax County, which provides two-thirds of the local amount — and “the library is very appreciative and thankful for the support of all three governments.”
However, he noted, if the library system consolidates outside of South Boston and Halifax, both are likely to discontinue their contributions to the operating budget. “Halifax County would have to increase funding of the library by $87,500 to make up the difference,” Stephens argued in his letter.
At a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee on Monday, Davis, who chairs the panel, said he felt services were being duplicated at the two library branches.
Noting that Halifax and South Boston are five miles apart, Davis argued that the county could save money by having a consolidated library facility — without endorsing any particular location for the consolidation.
In his letter, Stephens pointed out that both the South Boston and Halifax libraries have their advantages and disadvantages, and it would not be easy to consolidate at one location at the expense of the other.
“If the idea is to keep one existing library and close the other one, which one stays open and who makes that decision?” asked Stephens.
The South Boston branch handles a larger volume of patrons and is located in the town with the largest population. But the South Boston facility is hampered by a small amount of parking and lack of an elevator leading to the second floor.
The Halifax sees comparatively less activity but it also has more abundant parking, houses the library’s support services and is home to the popular Local History Room.
“The cost to build a new 20,000 square foot library, to replace both current structures, would be in the millions of dollars for construction costs alone, plus the costs to purchase the land as well as any furniture, shelving, and fixtures that would be required,” noted Stephens in his letter. “The Roanoke County Public Library recently built a new branch in the town of Vinton. The total square footage was slightly under 22,000 and the construction costs alone were $7.3 million, according to data provided in the publication Library Journal.
“There is always the possibility of finding an existing building for sale, purchasing it, and renovating it for a library. Here again there would be substantial costs, including the purchase of the building, the renovation process, and the moving of library materials from the two existing buildings into the consolidated building,” he added.
The full text of Stephens’ March 10 letter is as follows:
Recently a member of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors voiced his opinion that the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System should move from having two locations to having only one. The impetus for his remark was that such a move would generate a cost savings for Halifax County.
In fiscal year 2017 the library will receive a total of $282,500 in local funding from Halifax County, the town of Halifax, and the town of South Boston. Of that total amount 69% comes from Halifax County. The library is very appreciative and thankful for the support provided by all three local governments.
Consolidation of the libraries will not, in fact, result in a cost savings for Halifax County. If a consolidated library building were to be located outside of the limits of the two towns then I highly doubt that either town would continue to provide funding for the library, and the same would be true if one library were to be closed and the other left open. Halifax County would have to increase funding of the library by $87,500 to make up the difference.
If the idea is to keep one existing library and close the other one, which one stays open and who makes that decision? The South Boston Public Library is the larger and busier of the two branches, offers meeting space, and is located in the town with the larger population. At the same time it has a small number of dedicated parking spaces and does not have an elevator for access to the building’s second floor.
The Halifax Public Library is located in the county seat, has an ample number of dedicated parking spaces, houses the library’s support services, and is home to the popular Local History Room. However, it is the smaller of the two buildings, shares space with other agencies, and has no meeting space of its own.
The cost to build a new 20,000 square foot library, to replace both current structures, would be in the millions of dollars for construction costs alone, plus the costs to purchase the land as well as any furniture, shelving, and fixtures that would be required. The Roanoke County Public Library recently built a new branch in the town of Vinton. The total square footage was slightly under 22,000 and the construction costs alone were $7.3 million, according to data provided in the publication Library Journal
There is always the possibility of finding an existing building for sale, purchasing it, and renovating it for a library. Here again there would be substantial costs, including the purchase of the building, the renovation process, and the moving of library materials from the two existing buildings into the consolidated building.
By way of comparison, every Virginia county that is contiguous to Halifax County has at least twice the number of library buildings than are found in Halifax County. This includes the counties of Campbell, Charlotte, and Mecklenburg, which all have four libraries, and Pittsylvania County, which has five buildings.
The same supervisor who put forth the idea of library consolidation also alluded to his belief that a person can find all the information he or she might need through Google. While the internet has certainly provided greater access to information than could ever be imagined and technology has brought a number of changes to libraries in recent years, this does not mean that technology is replacing libraries. Technology is providing libraries with the opportunities to improve and adapt.
In this era of “fake news,” when anyone can place any bit of false information online, libraries and library staff serve as guides for those navigating through the maze of online information. Libraries provide access to digital services, including downloadable books, audio books, and magazines, as well as online historical and genealogical records. Libraries offer story times for children, lectures and programs for adults, and those devices made of paper called books, which many people still love to read.
Rather than discussing expensive consolidation options and downplaying the services and resources offered by our library, I would hope that the Board of Supervisors would look to support and improve the resource they already have in the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System.
Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System
CommentsUse the Old Winn Dixie...in the middle and large enough to house all books and parking.....why does Halifax County always want to build a new crappy building when we have many empty useful building around......Just waste our money.
- By Library Friend and X on 03 / 13 / 17
1. Who makes up the lost funding when both libraries in the 2 towns close?
2. The Winn Dixie site would still have expenses: putting up walls for offices, installing new wiring, insuring ADA compliance, & moving the contents of the 2 current libraries. Likely there are other upgrades need.
3. The South Boston library receives a lot of walk up traffic due to its location near residential areas. Some folks walk to the library because they don't own a car. How are they going to get to the library if it moves further away?
4. The locations of both branches make it hard for county residents in northern areas of the county to get to a library. Some of these folks use the Campbell County branch in Brookneal. We need to develop ways to extend library services to underserved areas of the county with a bookmobile, book delivery van, or a kiosk with a book & DVD dispenser. Consolidating into 1 building will not save money & will not be an improvement in access & service for citizens.
- By Jay Stephens on 03 / 14 / 17
CommentsMost of the people that go to the library surf Facebook. FB is very important!
- By Surffacebook on 03 / 14 / 17
CommentsYes, some people do use the library's computers and internet access for Facebook. They also use it for many other reasons, such as the Vietnam veteran who came to the Halifax library the other day and need some information from his service records, or the person who was in last week and needed help completing an online application for Dollar General. Yes, our patrons us our computers and internet access for Facebook, for job searches, for genealogical research, to find information for school projects, and for a host of reasons.
- By Jay Stephens on 03 / 15 / 17
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