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As December winds down, the various groups that have traditionally used the Del Webb Library at Indian Land for a meeting space are holding their last meetings there after the Lancaster County Library Board did away with after-hours public use.
While the public outrage may have simmered down some since the board approved the new policy two months ago, the issue is not completely dead.
Some group members say they still believe the decision was a mistake and hope to encourage library board members to work with them toward a solution.
Library board members reversed the after-hours use policy Sept. 23 in support of liability concerns expressed by County Library Director Rita Vogel.
The policy, which had been in place since the library opened in 2009, allowed Indian Land groups monthly use during most Monday through Thursday evenings. At the time, 13 groups regularly used the library’s meeting room each month after closing time and five others sporadically used the room during evening hours.
Since the library is only open until 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday nights, only those nights were left available for evening meetings, which must wrap up before closing.
Among those still angry about the issue is Indian Land resident Barbara Bartos.
Bartos said she was surprised last month when she went to sign up her group for its regular monthly slot – and found the meeting rooms’ availability even more limited than library system officials originally let on.
Bartos said she asked to reserve a Tuesday night, but was told there were no Tuesday nights available each month, and only two Monday evening slots available each month.
Like the decision to do away with evening hours, the paltry number of spaces that would be available was something Bartos said library officials should have told board members long ago.
“All of us were working on the assumption that there were two nights each week that people could meet,” Bartos said. “Then the calendar opens and we found out the number of nights got cut down from 16 per month to two nights a week?
“That’s a huge difference – key information Rita Vogel did not share with anyone,” she said.
Out of the original 18 groups that used the room during the evening, only three were able to schedule evening meeting times when the calendar opened Nov. 4, according to Del Webb Library Manager Nancy Berry.
The other Monday and Tuesday evening slots are used for library programs such as story time, family movie nights, teen library club activities and Friends of the Del Webb Library meetings.
She said some groups chose to use the meeting room during regular daytime hours, but demand hasn’t been great during the day and there are still daytime slots available.
“I’ve really not had anyone contact me,” Berry said. “In fact, when I opened my calendar, I was expecting 18 people standing there in line, but there weren’t, there were only three.”
Indian Land Action Council President Pat Eudy said her group didn’t try to find an evening slot because guaranteeing it could wrap up its meeting by 7:45 p.m. wasn’t possible.
Instead, Eudy said, the group moved to the only other available public space in Indian Land – the Indian Land Community Center.
Rent at the community center costs the group $25 a month, not a lot of money, but it adds up to $300 a year, which could be put to better use.
“We have to pay for it, which takes away from our donations to the food bank or HiKee, or anything like that, even money we used to give to the library,” Eudy said. “I’m past livid, because I think what they did hurt a lot of people.”
ILAC board member Wanda Rosa said while it may seem the issue has quieted down, it’s still on the group’s radar.
“It seems like there’s so many things happening on so many different angles these days, I think we’ve got to pick our battles,” Rosa said. “But it’s still simmering on the back burner.
“It just doesn’t make sense. This (library) was totally designed so the library is separate from the meeting room,” she said. “It’s not going to be used for its original purpose, which was to serve the community.”
In an attempt to rectify the situation, ILAC has started a petition to let the county know, as Eudy puts it, “that there’s more than just two or three people complaining.”
Rosa said the petition simply asks residents to sign and indicate if they believe the Del Webb Library meeting room should be open after hours.
To date, the group has gathered more than 200 signatures. Though the group is now focused on other issues, such as cluster developments and zoning, ILAC hopes to present the petition to County Council at budget time.
The hope is that council will include funding to either keep the library open later hours, or provide funds to hire an employee for evening meetings.
“We are going to take it to Lancaster County Council in regards to the budget because they’re not giving us what we’re entitled to in Indian Land, as far as meeting space is concerned,” Eudy said. “I think everybody who met there has that same feeling.”
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said County Council could, in theory, influence library board members since it appoints members and controls funding.
But he said its influence is legally limited.
“If the council was to earmark money and say, ‘OK, we’re going to include an extra $50,000 to keep the library open later,’ and the library accepts it, then they would have to spend it on that,” Willis said. “But then the library board can just say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’
“Legally, the library board is independent of the county,” he said. “The library board is the only board that by state statute the county has to have and so it’s not as if County Council can get mad at them and say, ‘We’ll just get rid of them.’”
Willis said the only requirement in the development agreement between Lancaster County and Pulte in regards to a public meeting room is for a “conference room” to be made available for priority use in considering economic development matters.
Among the most common arguments for why the Del Webb meeting room should remain open after hours is that the building was designed with a separate entrance and is locked off from the library proper with a metal gate after hours.
Former Lancaster County Library Board member Karen Paulson served as Indian Land’s representative on the county library board leading up to the library’s opening in 2009.
Paulson said board members specifically requested the library’s meeting room have access from the outside so the community could use it for after-hours meetings.
She said she coined a term for her vision of the library – “Indian Land’s living room.”
Paulson said the goal was for the library to be a place where Indian Land residents could gather. She said she believes the goal is still being met, even though she also personally believes the room should be available after hours.
“Did it take me by surprise (the policy change)? Yes. Am I happy about it? No,” Paulson said. “But do I understand it with the litigious society we live in today? Yes.
“It makes me sad because we were excited about offering a meeting space for Indian Land,” she said. “It saddens me greatly, but I can’t fail to acknowledge the current board’s concerns. I’m hoping sometime in the future we can come up with something that works.”
Library officials respond
Current Indian Land library representative Elizabeth Bryant, one of two on the county library board, said she has been contacted by residents asking if the board could come up with different solutions.
Bryant said even if liability wasn’t an issue, there would still be the issue of funding.
She said while she would, personally, like to see the library open to allow evening meetings, the library’s budget just doesn’t allow another salary and benefits.
That’s not to say the Del Webb library situation couldn’t change in the future.
“I just think until we can have additional funding, our hands are tied,” Bryant said. “It’s not that anyone is against the idea of having the library stay open. We would love to have every branch be open every night.
“We’re looking at the big picture, where we are heading with all our programs,” she said. “I think (the Del Webb situation) is going to be for the time being. But that doesn’t mean that the seed hasn’t been planted there, and it’s something we’ll never consider again.”
Vogel said the issue of fewer available days raised by Bartos was an unfortunate, but unintentional, necessity, since the library needed those slots for its own evening programming.
Vogel said while she does care about the community groups’ feelings on the issue, she has to stay focused on what is most important for the library itself – and in this case that means mitigating potential liabilities.
“I still feel I made the right choice, and I do think, of course, that the board did the right thing,” Vogel said. “I hope in the future that we can come to some kind of solution, I really do. I can’t promise anything, but in the meantime, I have to do something immediately to make sure the risk is removed or you could lose your library.
“I do think libraries are evolving into being about more than books; they do become a center of a community, but I don’t have a solution now for that right now,” she said. “I will say, the folks who are vocal are the folks who get things done, and I appreciate that very much.”
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151