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.
Expanding and improving the community library makes all the sense in the world. It provides seniors with an outlet. It provides a place of additional learning for children and adults alike. Perhaps attendance has declined because the needs of our expanding community are not being adequately addressed. It might also help if people felt safer around the library itself. It has been reported that drug-dealing and other forms of loitering have been causing some concern at that particular site. I have always felt, personally, that the space inside is not being properly used and the actual reading, audio and video materials seem paltry and out of date.
Alan Peterson says
The activity numbers that I received from the Library Director indicate that activity declined from 514,000 in 2009 to 433,000 in 2013 which is a decline of 15% , not near the 26% that is suggested in this article and, more importantly, is closely correlated to a decline in the material (books ,etc) budget approved by the County Commissioners. At the same time the number of users of the Library has increased from 46,000 to 55,000 indicating that the usage of the and importance of the Library facility to the residents of Flagler County is increasing. In addition, any expansion would provide a significant increase in needed meeting space for all the organizations that currently have no other County facility available.
Allen, we requested the numbers for 2013 but were told that they were not ready just yet, but would be soon. Our numbers were drawn from the latest publicly available data, showing 2012’s total number of services provided at 487,707, compared to 337,659 in 2012, which is the 31 percent decline referred to. Total services provided is a different figure than circulation, which, as you point out, has declined by a much smaller margin. The figure we had in 2009 was the 514,124 you noted. The figure in 2012 was 447,450, a 13 percent decline–now 15 percent, according to the fresher figures you have received. But the numbers are not necessarily the driver of the library’s needs, as the library director (and you) noted, given the changing nature of library functions and uses.
I think it is a good idea to expand the library. Granted, people are leaning towards e books somewhat, but there are plenty of people who want to read an actual book. The programs for the kids are absolutely wonderful and, in my opinion, enhance their development and give them worthwhile entertainment, learning and interacting skills. It is also a great place to use for small meetings or just go and read a book or newspaper and enjoy seeing some of the residents of Flagler County.
Also, the population is growing so more people will be making use of the library.
I realize the request for library expansion is probably falling on deaf commissioner’s and county manager’s ears as they have other things on their agenda, but maybe people will be made more aware of all the library services we have and want to support it. JMO
The library should be first in line for any use of our tax dollars…way ahead of a new town hall !
(and don’t tell me the new town hall isn’t using tax dollars- if they are not original tax dollars I don’t know what is)….More people use the Library then the town hall…some people never use the town hall!
Now this is something the people of Flagler County would eagerly support. When you go to the library, you have trouble finding a parking space! I have never seen such a busy library anywhere I have lived. The staff is so friendly and helpful. The added passport area is also well run and efficient. Childrens programs are a great way to encourage the kids to read for pleasure as well as learning. County commissioners……this is something that the public wants!
Library is under County jurisdiction/control not under City of Palm Coast.
My friend former avid library visitor no longer goes to the library, as last time he was there caught a bad cold from a nearby coughing library patron, that turned into pneumonia that nearly killed him, spent 2 days at Flagler Hospital and is lucky to be alive thru the ordeal, at over 80 years of age.
Librarian Albanese should request an A/C ultraviolet devise to purify and kill bacteria on the system’s air recirculating handler and also the courtesy of asking or posting something to the regard that if a patron has a contagious illness condition refrain from visiting the facility, until recovered and well again.
Unfortunately after county BOCC raised and wasted our taxes in the Plantation utility and the old hospital, I don’t think should continuo spending money they don’t have. Otherwise I see again in 2014 my county taxes going up another $100 or more.
Seminole Pride says
A Coffee Shop In the library would be nice.
I think the library’s location is an issue. There is no functional library in Bunnell for people who work, and the population numbers they use are purely based on residents of the city of Palm Coast vs. Bunnell. I think it’s kind of wild that all the people in the S, Z, U, E, C and some R live closer to Bunnell than the one in Palm Coast. The population number don’t even include anyone in the unincorporated service districts.
If the library could use geographical population numbers by radius, maybe they could expand the Bunnell Library in or near the Government Building to provide better access to a good number of Flagler County residents. As it is now, anyone who lives in or near Bunnell and works a common work week schedule has zero access to a library, and the Palm Coasters on the south side of Highway 100 have to drive beyond the library in Bunnell to get to one in Palm Coast.
I know there is a tax issue and that Palm Coast technically has more residents, but I wish there was some creative way to expand services for the residents living in Bunnell and Daytona North while increasing access to library services to the Palm Coast residents who live in the E, Z, L, K, S, and U sections, as well as those who live in multi-family complexes along Highway 100.
I CANNOT AGREE MORE WITH devrie. There should be another library in the Town Center to serve patrons in that part of the county!!!
Don’t use our tax dollars to make room for those who utilize the library to hang out in the library….check out what you need and take it home-bring it back when your done. If space is added at the library, the space should be to add more materials to make the library better. Another library in Palm Coast would be nice as this one is not centrally located.