The community message at a town hall about the future of Calloway County Public Library was almost unanimous: support for an expansion and renovation.
The library board held the public forum Wednesday ahead of their strategic planning phase. Some 120 people of all ages packed into the library to participate.
Many spoke of a need for more computers and more space in the children’s area and meeting areas. Ray Horton said he was disappointed the first time he brought his daughter to the library.
“For a small child like Emerson, there’s really nothing. We had to sit in the floor in the corner, in front of an office door, trying not to disturb other patrons,” Horton said. “As Emerson grows up we need to ask ourselves, what message will it send her and other children when the library is a source of public controversy?”
Several people echoed these same sentiments, including Shannon Davis Roberts who also spoke about the need to make the library compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. “People with limited mobility have no independence in the aisles, they’re too small for wheelchairs. That must make them feel really horrible, I know because my dad was in one,” Roberts said.
Many people shared their “library story,” including a woman who was able to go back to school using the Internet available at the library- she later went on to receive two master’s degrees and a doctorate.
A mother let her toddler hang on to her hand as she told the board how her young children read through 150 books one month. “150 books that I found scattered all around their rooms and the house, 150 books that my daughters fell asleep to at night, sometimes with the books on their faces, 150 worlds that my kids became a part of,” Kate Mizell said. “Now you can imagine what it would cost to buy this many books per month- few families could afford that or have the space to store it. The library gives this wonderful and invaluable opportunity to every member of the community- no matter their economic status.”
Though many speakers asked the board to move forward with the expansion as soon as possible, the town hall was not as tense as previous meetings. The board delayed a decision to move forward with a proposed expansion until January, but have said that they all support an expansion of some kind.
“Of course nobody has ever questioned or doubted that something needs to be done. The questions are what should be done exactly, the details...” Board member Winfield Rose said. “...It’s not as simple as some people think it is. I’m not convinced this current plan is the best option, but I’m open to being convinced. I’m not closing any doors.”
There were no speakers who said they opposed an expansion, but a few community members did express their financial concerns surrounding it. Larry Tucker resigned from the board in April following the decision to move forward with the proposed expansion and spoke at the meeting.
“I am for expansion and renovation but I’m also against accruing long-term debt and raising taxes to do it,” Tucker said. “While we need the expansion, we also need to consider that operating costs of the library will go up with the expansion. I urge you to study this project and take your time in making a good decision.”
Georgena Taylor was among several other speakers who argued that the library can afford an expansion without accruing long-term debt.
“It’s uncommon and unreasonable to ask for a government entity to pay for a building in cash. The Calloway County Jail needed to expand and money was requested to do so,” Taylor said. “Our library is essential to our community and shouldn’t be subjected to extra scrutiny when it comes to fiscal responsibility- especially when $3.1 million has been designated in building funds.”
Board President Audrey Neal said she doesn’t believe the board will decide to make a decision on the expansion before January. She said the new members want to make sure they are making an informed decision.
“I understand their perspective, it’s a lot of information to process and go through. They want to make sure they are doing their duty in the role they’ve been assigned to and that they’re making a responsible financial decision,” Neal said.
Neal said while she understands and supports the new board members’ viewpoint, there is a tradeoff to waiting on an expansion decision. “It’s a toss-up here, the longer we wait, the more expensive it’s going to end up being, the more money it’s going to cost every time we push it back and delay it,” she said.
A video of the town hall meeting can be seen here.