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Capital Sales Tax: Libraries see demand driving plans for growth

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Dwight McInvaill, county library director, keeps a newspaper clipping from 1935 to remind him that things really are better today.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek commentary from the Aug. 9, 1935, Georgetown Times titled “Wanted”. The article claims to seek a librarian for the Georgetown library, “one who is willing to serve two afternoons each week, rain or shine, hot or cold without help, interest or cooperation from the public, town or county.” The article details what a thankless job the librarian has amid unrealistic expectations and absurdly low fees “just for the love of the public.”

While expectations for services continue to grow, Georgetown County has done a lot better by its libraries. Voters will have the opportunity to add to the county’s proposed library commitments Nov. 6.

Libraries are on the list to receive $11.3 million from funds collected through a proposed 1-cent sales tax. Expenditures include $6.5 million for Georgetown, $2 million for Sampit/Santee and $2.81 million to augment funds set aside already for Waccamaw. Estimates say the tax will bring in $44 million over eight years to pay for nearly $40 million in capital projects that include dredging, roads, fire stations, recreation facilities and, of course, libraries.

Opponents of the tax increase have said libraries are on the way out. People use e-readers now and buy their books online.

One opponent of the tax told County Council a library these days is about as useful as a record store. Others have said the county has “library fever.”

Charlie Luquire, chairman of the Stop the Tax Hike Committee, says the county recognized its financial limitations in its Capital Improvement Project proposals when it set aside more than $3 million for a Waccamaw library years ago. Funds from the 1-cent sales tax would add $2.8 million to the Waccamaw project and make it as large as a proposed new main branch.

“Georgetown County, with a population of 60,000, has four libraries — Georgetown, Waccamaw, Andrews and Carvers Bay,” Luquire said. “Andrews and Carvers Bay are new libraries since 2006, and Waccamaw will receive, under the existing county Capital Improvement Plan, a new 17,700 square foot library in 2014 at a cost of $3.5 million — approximately $200 per square foot. The $11.3 million library project on the sales tax list would double the size of county libraries (using the $200 per square foot cost would build 56,500 square feet of new libraries). The CIP appropriately recognizes the county financial limitations and the sales tax does not.”

The main library on Cleland Street in Georgetown was completed in 1989 and opened just before Hurricane Hugo struck. While 23 years seems a relatively short time ago to some, the Internet did not exist then and the building had no provisions for computerization. “I came to Georgetown in 1996,” McInvaill said, “and the library had one portal with dial-up Internet service. We circulated books, answered reference questions and ran a children’s program. Now, we’re out of capacity on our routers and hubs with 5,000 people a month going on-line.”

A Georgetown County library branch is the only place for many people to get on the Internet. There were job seekers, students and people checking e-mail and Facebook occupying every terminal in a retrofitted computer room at the main library Monday. In fact, most of the rooms — and some former porches and closets — have been re-purposed for a new use over the past decade. The library is expanding its digital footprint by putting resources online and hosting student-generated content. It even has those e-books for Kindles and Nooks through a service called Access Overdrive, and for those without a computer there are pre-loaded Kindles to check out. But, McInvaill says, there are no e-books for material from 1923 to the end of the 20th century because of copyrights. Real books are not obsolete.

When the state library discovered it had no room to display hundreds of new books, it gave them to county libraries. McInvaill grabbed $15,000 worth of art books filled with beautifully printed paintings for the Waccamaw Library. With no space for them, the books remain in cardboard boxes in his office.

There is ample evidence that the Georgetown County Library System is cutting edge. The question is: How much are citizens willing to pay?

Georgetown County won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2007 on the strength of its outreach programs like lectures, exhibitions, documentaries, oral-history videos, storytelling, dance and music. The main branch has hosted two national exhibitions sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, “Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation” and “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World.” McInvaill has already scheduled a NASA space exhibition for the new Waccamaw library in 2015 and a depiction of Civil War surgery called “Life and Limb” for the main branch.

But the library of the future trends toward digital, even for the technically challenged. They can use a geek squad service called “Book a Librarian” and get one-on-one help with their Kindles, iPads or software applications. The main branch has 18,000 photos, manuscripts and newspapers from 1819 to 1899 keyword searchable. The 1900s are next. “The only thing holding us back is money,” McInvaill said.

There’s the rub.

Supporters say a Waccamaw branch needs to be a similar sized facility as the main — 27,000 square feet — because of projected growth on the Neck. The county has set aside $3.188 million for Waccamaw’s facility on Willbrook Boulevard, and the additional 1-cent sales tax would add $2.8 million to expand it. The Library Center-Waccamaw is an organization that hoped to raise an additional $1 million to expand it even more. An outgrowth of Friends of the Waccamaw Library, the group has raised $160,000 for bricks and mortar and has a new goal of $130,000 for technology and books, according to coordinator Kim Fox.

At 7,000 square feet, the Waccamaw Library has been inadequate for the demand for a decade or more, supporters say.

“Our current Waccamaw facility is no longer adequate to serve the public’s changing expectations,” a study commissioned by The Library Center-Waccamaw concluded. “The facility cannot be further enlarged or renovated to the degree needed to meet current needs and certainly not future requirements.”

The study uses the state library’s Wheeler Formula — it’s based on providing eight-tenths of a square foot per inhabitant of an area — for a projected Waccamaw Neck population of 32,000 over the next decade or two. According to the formula, Waccamaw would need a 25,600 square foot library. Planners in Beaufort, the study said, used 1.25 square feet per citizen as a minimum projection for library space needs, the study said. Not every county can afford to follow a formula. Greenwood County, with a population of 68,000, built a 43,000 square foot library in 2010 for $10 million.

“The Waccamaw Neck needs and deserves a library that will support its community,” the study said. Proponents want to add to facilities, equipment and services through donations and with money from the 1-cent sales tax, including:

• Auditorium and kitchen with state-of-the-art presentation technologies and facilities for catering

• Heritage Center and Gallery for local art, photographs, music, exhibits and oral history videos

• Expansion of resources will add books

• Technology will add computers.

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