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New library long overdue

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Richard Band

The library building in downtown Lancaster has fallen on hard times. It’s a familiar landmark, where many folks grew up doing their homework and coming to story times.
It is the headquarters that feeds our proud new facility in Indian Land and a thriving little branch in Kershaw.
The library is 42 years old. Most of the furniture is vintage 1970. Shabby would be a kind way to describe the carpet and the overall appearance of the interior spaces.
The library has not gotten this way from neglect, but from heavy usage by county residents of all ages. Maybe it could stand pat a few more years were it not for the fact that the condition of the building adversely impacts the delivery of services that are vital to so many people.
At the Lancaster County Council meeting Jan 28, members of the library board invited council members to take a field trip to the library.
Not just to see how bad things are but to determine for themselves whether the library is serving our community well and whether  those efforts deserve better support.
Last week the library hosted training classes for volunteers to help people with their tax returns. We had to do bring in laptop computers because the training required Internet access.
There were cables and cords everywhere but we made it work. After each session the mobile lab was dismantled because the room is needed for many other public functions.
In the summer we hold reading programs for children at First Baptist Church because there is not enough room in the library. We must look beyond our space limitations because it is so important that children not lose their reading skills when school is out. Many of the children we serve don’t have enrichment opportunities like summer camps.
Much of the floor space in the library is crowded with computers for public use. It’s not very private and not very cozy and often there’s a waiting list.
But this service is indispensable to job seekers without a computer at home. Users logged in more than 50,000 times during 2012 to fill out job applications, search for job openings and update resumes.
It’s a digital age but books are not being overlooked. We are making more books available than ever before. In October we joined 17 counties in South Carolina as part of a consortium to share our resources. The book you check out tomorrow may have come from Anderson or Florence or Beaufort because all of our holdings are merged in one catalog, SC Lends.
Good things are happening at the library because we have an outstanding and creative staff. Their can-do spirit from day to day helps us maintain a high level of customer service in a less than ideal working environment.
Our very supportive library board was appointed by County Council to oversee library operations, but it is the statutory responsibility of the Council to ensure that facilities are adequate.
The most economical plan we have found to address the issue is to completely renovate the existing building, construct a children’s wing on the White Street side and expand the building toward Market Street. The empty lot on the corner of Market and Chesterfield belongs to the library, acquired years ago from the city.
This approach was recommended by our architectural consultant, Danny Shelley. Cost estimates were drawn up by Robert Moody at the Catawba Regional Planning Commission and Chad Catledge of Perception Builders. Mr. Shelley has also provided us with floor plans.
In recent years, the library board has presented County Council with proposals for a public referendum and an installment purchase plan to fund the $5 million project. Other priorities intervened.
Then our hopes to include the library in the courthouse bonds were dashed. There are ways to get this done, but the commitment has to be there. There will not be a developer offering to pay for a new main library as we were fortunate to experience in Indian Land.
A progressive county like Lancaster must have a modernized facility that will provide the services people need – from workforce training to technology to children’s educational support.
Recently Lancaster has seen the opening of the new courthouse, the historic courthouse museum and the Native American Studies Center. We’ve had the groundbreaking for a new classroom building at the University of South Carolina Lancaster. Surely it’s time now to turn our attention to the library.
It’s a matter of education, economic development and community pride.