Library?

In the last five years, DeWitt area voters were twice given the opportunity to build and fund the operation of a new State of Art Library on DeWitt Road. The message was clear: voters do not see the need or are unwilling/unable to pay for the type of Library typically found in communities of our size.

Despite the failed millage, the needs of the Library and the community it serves remain unchanged. The current Library on Schavey Road is 6400 sq. ft and is not large enough to provide adequate services to our community. We have one public restroom for the over 6,000 people who visit the Library each month. In 2010, the Library was required to re-work the sewer lines from the building to the road because the structure was never intended for the amount of use it currently receives. The fire code on our public meeting room is 12 which is not sufficient for the more than 20 children and their parents who come to the multiple story times offered at the Library each week. For each book or item added to the collection, another must be removed because Library shelves have reached capacity. Parking is limited and there is no additional space for more public computers or more comfortable seating for those who wish to sit and read.

Additionally, the current operational millage of .5 is not adequate to operate the library at its most basic level. While the DeWitt District Library has levied the same amount for the last 15 years, changes in the economy have caused the .5 millage rate to generate significantly less. The Library has lost 10% of its revenue in the last 5 years and is currently one of the 5 lowest funded Libraries (of any size) in the state. Library staff have worked to be as efficient as possible, utilizing more than 1000 hours of volunteer help each year.

The Library has no technology staff despite having a very complex network and computerized card catalog system. There are also no custodial or maintenance staff. Employees or volunteers wipe down tables, clean toilets, vacuum floors, trim trees, and clean flower beds. The Library has already reduced hours of operation by 14 per week, cut staff, and lowered the book budget to less than 50% of what it was five years ago. Library circulation has dropped 8% each year for the last five years. Some would argue that the drop in circulation is proof the Library isn’t needed. I would challenge that the drop in circulation came immediately following our cuts in hours and material purchases. How can the public use the Library if we are not open when they need us to be? How can the public check out books if we cannot afford to buy what our patrons want? With fewer open hours, fewer materials, and fewer staff to offer customer service….the DeWitt District Library is slowly dying.

As a Library Director, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is whether or not the Library is becoming obsolete. Why are Libraries necessary with so much information available online? Are e-books causing the Library to die? In truth, the future of the public Library has never been more bright. The modern Library is much more than a warehouse for books. Libraries are needed for information, for public meeting space, as a safe gathering place for teens, for literacy, for small business development, computer usage, research, quiet study, technology instruction and as a provider of digital information and e-books. If anything, Libraries are or can be (with public support) more relevant than ever.

2014 is an important year for the DeWitt District Library because our operational millage is up for renewal in August. If the millage fails, the Library will have one more chance on the November ballot. If the millage fails in November, the Library will close in 2015 for lack of funding. The Library needs to hear from residents about the kind of Library the community wants, and more importantly about the type of Library the community is willing to fund.

To determine the needs and expectations of the public before this election, the Library Board has developed a survey which will be mailed to a random selection of registered voters in the Library District. As a resident, you may be receiving this survey in the mail. If you do, I urge you to respond. Having a high response rate to this survey is critical to assist the Library Board in the decision making process. If you do not receive the survey, please visit the Library website and/or this blog in the near future for additional ways to share your thoughts. The Library Board will utilize the information/data gathered from the survey to make a decision about what to place on the August ballot.

The DeWitt District Library is a quality of life institution and should reflect the needs of the community it serves. Thank you for helping us determine its future.