By Crystal Burns
Members of the Gibson County Memorial Library Board, Friends of the Library, Library Foundation and other supporters met Friday to hear the results of an extensive report prepared by a internationally-recognized library consultant.
The library board contracted with Anders Dahlgren of Library Planning Associates in Illinois for the comprehensive needs analysis, which Dahlgren summarized during his official final site visit, although he said he hopes to remain involved with the project.
The crux of Dahlgren’s findings: the county library, which is located in Trenton, is presently operating in 5,200 square feet. To properly house the approximately 24,000 items and 15 computer terminals in its collection, the library should have around 8,600 square feet.
“The difference between 8,600 and your existing 5,200 is a measure of how good librarians are at carrying seven gallons in a 5-gal. bucket,” Dahlgren said. “We’re really good at that.”
Based on his reviews of Tennessee library standards, the county library’s annual progress reports from the last 20 years, peer libraries from the state, region and country and interviews with country library staff, Dahlgren recommends a facility that could house 38,000 items, 24 computer stations, a public meeting space to seat 100 and a children’s multipurpose room to seat 30. His bottom line was a building of 21,600 sq. ft., space that could get a little bit smaller as details are nailed down during the planning process.
“I always hope to put this recommendation as a realistic number, but a little bit on the high side,” Dahlgren explained.
Dahlgren said the 21,600 sq. ft. estimate is between the low and moderate points of the spectrum.
The meeting also served as a reset for county leaders and the library board. County Mayor Tom Witherspoon attended and said he was there to offer advice and an olive branch. Witherspoon said after a story about the library aired on local television news, he received calls from concerned commissioners in Milan, Humboldt and Medina, asking about raising taxes there to build a new library in Trenton, but Witherspoon also said he has been asked why he’s against a new library.
The mayor noted that in 2006 after his home had been damaged in deadly tornados that ripped through Bradford, he lived at his trailer on the lake and regularly used the Paris Public Library as an office until he could find a new job. He accessed library computers to write, print and send resumes.
Dahlgren said the mayor’s story is a perfect example of how libraries serve their communities.
“The library we grew up with was about static storage,” he said. “Today, it’s about engagement and exchange.”
Foundation will raise funds
Jerry Phillips, chairman of the library board, said the Gibson County Memorial Library Foundation has been established because library leaders have no intentions of asking taxpayers to foot the entire bill for a new facility.
“This [library] board looked ahead and said we know the county is not going to fund the whole library,” he said. “This is why we established a foundation to go over these grants, to see how much money we can get, which I think is the way to do it.”
Library Director Lindsey Ingram added that the foundation’s first fundraiser, a soup luncheon and silent auction held in January, netted $6,700, and more donations are coming into the foundation every day.
“I understand we’re going to have to raise money,” she said. “It can’t all be on the county.”
Humboldt, Milan libraries
The Gibson County Memorial Library receives annual funding from the county and the City of Trenton. It has the largest service area in the county.
The cities of Humboldt and Milan also have public libraries, which are largely funded by their respective municipalities. The county also contributes $10,000 per year to each of those libraries compared to $30,000 for the county library.
Ingram said that having three libraries is good for the county because of the convenience they provide patrons, but she said that the county library does regularly serve Milan and Humboldt citizens, although it cannot count them for its annual reports.
Dahlgren told the library board it’s farther along in its planning than he originally thought and much closer to hiring an architect than he had anticipated, Ingram said.
“This hasn’t been brought to the county commission yet because we are gathering concrete facts to take to them,” Ingram said. “We know that a new library is going to be expensive. That’s why we have already started fundraising for it. That’s also the reason the foundation was formed. A lot of thought and research has brought us to the point where we are now, and we will continue to work and do research to ensure that a new library puts as little strain on the county as possible.”