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Flagler Libraries Avoid Service Cuts; Expansion of Community Space and Café Planned

| June 14, 2010

Flagler's two libraries circulated half a million items and were frequented by an almost equal number of visitors in 2009. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commission Chairman George Hanns is known for his one-liners, most of which he doesn’t intend as such. In stature, wit and popularity, he’s the commission’s Yogi Berra. He punctuates stunningly dull meetings with the odd, and sometimes very odd, phrase, whether he’s comparing personality conflicts in government to marriage (“we won’t go any further,” the divorced Hanns added to that one three months ago) or a commission meeting to The Tonight Show (after getting a needed phone number called out to him by side-kick Craig Coffey, the county administrator).

George Hanns’ “Friends” Moment (With Abbott Downer)
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During an excitement-challenged budget workshop Monday, Hanns had a suggestion for Holly Albanese, the county library director. After preparing for the appearance as thoroughly as if she were speaking to a congressional committee, Albanese was describing how the Friends of the Library might (or might not) be interested in salvaging what’s left of the vandalized gazebo at the main-branch library, and how she might develop a café in the Palm Coast branch as a way to generate money. Hann’s idea, delivered with deadpan timing worthy of a comedian far abler than Jay Leno: “Maybe the Friends want to donate the coffee shop and we could call it”—dramatic pause—“Friends.” (For those of you who missed the 90s, “Friends” was the 10-season sit-com featuring a group of friends who kept New York City’s economy powered on their loitering in a coffee shop called “Central Perk,” a pun of Hannsian proportions.)

Don’t be surprised if a) you do see a coffee shop at the library in the future; b) if it is called “Friends”; c) if the gazebo vanishes; and d) if meeting space at the library is vastly expanded by the beginning of next year.

That last is more of a certainty than a possibility. It’s a planned $70,000 expansion of the existing, overbooked and often cramped meeting room, which dozens of non-profit organizations use and compete for throughout the year. The room (literally a room rather than a hall) officially seats 119, according to fire marshal allowances, but usually far fewer can actually sit. The room will be expanded by 400 to 600 square feet (the equivalent of a medium-size apartment in Tokyo) and will have the option of being divided in two, thus doubling the possibility of simultaneous meetings.

Holly Albanese

“There are so many non-profit organizations looking for space that we don’t have any place to hold our own programs, that’s why we’ve been using the Doug Cisney Reading Room in the back, which we glass-enclosed last year,” Albanese said. But that arrangement with the reading room can’t last forever. “We hope for it to eventually become our cafe.” Just don’t expect the cafe too soon. When Albanese took a survey of patrons’ priorities, the café ranked in the top three, but it figures in the library’s three-to-five-year planning horizon.

The $70,000 is not a definite figure: it’ll be refined in coming weeks. The library is paying for the project with revenue from a previous Albanese innovation (which won the system a national award): taking passport applications, which generated $41,000 in 2009 and is on pace to generate $42,000 this year. Carry-over from that money will provide some financing for the expansion. The Friends, who also stand to benefit from the room’s expansion, are also contributing out of their endowment fund, which is outside of the tax-dollar pot.

Checking Out the Flagler Library System (2009 Data):

  • Circulated 514,124 collection items.
  • Provided service to 487,707 patrons who visited the library (electronic use of library databases not included).
  • Logged 172,866 uses of library databases through the web page, a 125 percent increase over 2008.
  • Registered 6,619 new borrowers.
  • Presented 446 youth programs to 16,664 children.
  • Answered 30,178 questions at the reference desk.
  • Processed 1,260 passport applications for $41,000 in revenue.

Commissioner Milissa Holland was worried about the electric bill at the main library: $70,000. That’s actually a reduction from $85,000 in the previous year—at least the budgeted number last year, when the library anticipated a rate increase by Florida Power & Light that did not materialize. The library has two new air conditioning units that may render the place more efficient, but being a library, the temperature cannot be set lower than a certain level, otherwise the library’s books would be demolished by mold.

And the poor gazebo? “We do plan on putting a camera in the gazebo if the decision is to keep the gazebo. We don’t have that answer yet. We will be discussing it at the next friends meeting on July 14.”

Overall, the library system managed through a couple of retirements—Vikki Abreu, the tech services librarian, and Deidra Wright, the reference librarian—and the reclassification of a couple of others, the library system’s budget was reduce by $114,000 without a concurrent reduction in services. The Bunnell library will still be open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and the main library will remain open 61 hours a week. In all, the system is employing 18.

The Bunnell Library

As much as Hanns can be relied on for darts of wit, fellow-Commissioner Bob Abbot can re relied on for darts that pop balloons (albeit necessary darts: he asks questions that must be asked). “Holly,” he said, the laughter still smattering from Hanns’ “Friends,” “how do you feel about the Bunnell library? Is it a useful place? Is it not useful anymore, or what?”

“As a librarian,” Albanese said, “I would hate to close any library. As an administrator, I can tell you that we have seen an increase in usage in the last year, and it’s definitely increasing as far as the number of items being checked out and computer use, for sure. What I am seeing a decrease in is the usage by children.” That has a lot to do with activities at Bunnell Elementary and summer camp there, plus the library’s closed doors on Saturdays, a day that traditionally draws children. As for what people are checking out: “One third of the circulation is videos,” Albanese said.

“We’re acting as a cheap video store,” Coffey said. Videos and DVDs. But the library will remain open, at least three days a week, as will the state-mandated law library in that branch.

“But the comparison isn’t valid in my mind,” Commissioner Alan Peterson said, “because the Palm Coast location has books, and the Bunnell location has very few books, so the average individual might run through most of the books that are sitting in Bunnell and then have to go to Palm Coast to get something or get it transferred.”

Come on in. (© FlaglerLive)

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5 Responses for “Flagler Libraries Avoid Service Cuts; Expansion of Community Space and Café Planned”

  1. Monica Campana says:

    Was hoping for ebooks – wishful thinking.

  2. Jim Guines says:

    That is not wishful thinking, that is futuristic and innovative thinking of which we can use more.

  3. BW says:

    Actually, the cafe idea is the best idea to come out. I think it would be a better plan to open space and lease that space to a business partner that is experienced in running a cafe. By using that model, you are opening up another business in the area that can employee a few people without any management burden to the Library itself.

  4. BW says:

    eBook lending is a great idea that Libraries are embracing. Unfortunately the two systems which provide this unique type of distribution are very costly for libraries right now. which is the better system in my opinion requires (at this time) for the library to set up servers which can be an initial outlay cost of $40,000 to $50,000 for their system to provide the ebooks and tie-in with the library card system. NetLibrary also provides ebook lending service but with a model that is similar to physical books wherein the library purchases a quantity of ebooks that can be downloaded at one time. The ebooks actually become a part of inventory. Therefore, this does not really provide a real solution to expense or providing a larger selection.

  5. Bill Ryan says:

    We are fortunate to have a “out of the box” library director. While its budget has been severely cut over the years it still functions as a key meeting place and community center with support from its active Library Friends group and the new passport revenue. Flagler County should be grateful to the dedicated volunteers and professional staff that keep our library afloat even in these difficult times. It would be wonderful to have a coffee shop there making the quality of life even better, who knows it might even bring in some new revenue? It would be nice to offer new features eg. ebooks etc. but there revenue needs to come from somewhere and the attempt to add the library system to our tax roll failed its vote some time ago. Perhaps the City of Palm Coast needs to take a look at how much this library contributes.

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