The Flagler County Library’s budget has shrunk by more than a third in the past five years. The number of people who physically use the library every year has fallen almost as much since 2009, though the number of people taking advantage of the library’s online services away from the building has surged. Circulation of books and other materials has also been declining, though not as steeply.
For all that, the library’s board of directors say the main branch on Palm Coast Parkway and Belle Terre Parkway is long overdue for an expansion that would help redesign the building in line with public libraries’ changing roles—from repositories of printed materials to art, education, civic and community centers.
“Libraries are changing,” Library Director Holly Albanese says. “I wouldn’t say they’re shrinking. They’re changing.”
Alan Peterson, a member of the Board of Trustees, said it’s been 14 years since the last expansion. The library several years ago floated an expansion proposal, but did it poorly, Peterson said, and the public rejected it. “We’d like to do it right this time,” Peterson said.
A potential expansion, County Administrator Craig Coffey said, would rely on a blend of dollars, including sales tax revenue, Friends of the Library revenue, an a fund-raiser. But, he cautioned, it’s premature to talk details or schedules beyond possibly a design plan, which Albanese says the library can already pay for with more than $100,000 accumulated from its passport program. (Several years ago Albanese made the library the county’s go-to location for anyone needing a U.S. Passport. The program generated more than $60,000 in the past year.)
Tuesday morning, Albanese led a tour of the library for all five members of the Flagler County Commission, most members of the Library Board of Trustees and Friends of the Library leaders. The aim: To show where and why expansion is needed.
The tour started, appropriately, in the library’s only meeting room, a square space to the right of the building as you go in, that has a capacity of 119 people. A children’s program—the library’s children’s programs have also been surging in popularity—tallied up 275 people. It had to be held in a different portion of the library. Size aside, the meeting room is also overbooked. Its monthly schedule, posted at the door, shows to what extent: The Astronomy Club, a genealogy club, Marineland’s Right Whale Project, federal health care navigators, food stamps enrollment, a Disney birthday celebration, a duct tape workshop (no kidding: that’s this Saturday from 11:30 a.m. To 1 p.m.), a children’s craft program, Santa’s Post Office: the list goes on. That’s in addition to the room’s use by two tax-preparation groups every week, twice a week, from February to April. And that’s the case even after the library started charging $25 for use of the room. “We really need to have more public spaces,” Peterson said.
One possible expansion would lengthen the library building to the west. Another would add spaces “all around” it, Peterson said, although the western expansion would likely be the most feasible, as it would not cut into parking spaces much. An expanded space in that direction would then enable the library to shift its children’s room there, and turn the current children’s room into additional meeting space.
It would also address another significant need: more smaller, autonomous study or quiet reading spaces where students or other patrons can retreat without being bombarded by ambient sounds. Those spaces are almost non-existent.
The library can also use more storage space and would like to have a “mobile computer lab,” a sort of in-house cart stacked up with computers that can be rolled around the building for use by patrons in different parts of the library, rather than requiring patrons to sit at computer stations.
Coffey said the county has two overriding priorities at the moment: the construction of an expanded county jail, and the reconstruction of the old Memorial Hospital into a new headquarters for the sheriff. It is also drawing up a list of additional needs, from a new fire station in the western part of the county to an upgrade of the emergency radio system. “This,” Coffey said of the library’s potential expansion, “is definitely one of them.” But making it on the list of needs won’t necessarily mean that the project will be developed in the immediate future. “All that is very early to say right now,” he said.
“The Friends of the Library and the Board of Trustees are going to be the drivers,” Coffey said.
Addressing the county commissioners, Friends of the Library President Terry Jones said: “Know that you have the Friends’ support behind you 100 percent.” That, Jones said, includes fund-raising efforts.