Orange County commissioners kick-start libraries’ future

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 11, 2013 

— The Orange County Board of Commissioners set a three-year plan in motion last week that could expand the county’s library services and programs beyond Hillsborough.

The draft 2013-16 strategic plan was filed with the state this summer as part of a required funding application. Orange County Library Director Lucinda Munger said the final plan will be submitted later this month. The county receives more than $100,000 each year from the state, she said.

Chapel Hill files a separate application for its state library funding.

The county’s strategic plan focuses on library collections and materials, service and community space, technology tools and training, and community partnerships. County staff already is considering an Internet cafe-style library at the Cedar Grove Community Center, where residents could access library databases and attend various programs.

Munger said it would be a start toward providing more library services to the whole county.

The plan also includes the creation of a formal volunteer program, a review process and annual public forums, a community review group and a customer-based advisory team. Munger said the library could identify 50 customer advisers to respond to online questions and comments.

The future Southern Branch Library in Carrboro isn’t mentioned, but the strategic plan does seek more cooperation with the Chapel Hill Public Library. The plan, written with input from library staff and residents, showed there’s still a preference for books but a growing desire for more technology. Residents said they also want more teen and youth, education and personal growth programs.

The library’s annual operating budget is roughly $1.8 million for 29,573 registered customers. Only 41 percent of county residents have active library cards, but there are more than 100,000 audiovisual and print materials, plus databases and e-books, in circulation, officials said.

Southern Branch Library

The commissioners also asked staff last week to move ahead with a study of the former Butler Garage site in Carrboro. The privately owned lot could be redeveloped with a first-floor library and apartments above. Parking would be available in the nearby 300 East Main Street parking lot.

The site is on three bus lines and the Libba Cotten Bikeway. It also is located near low-income neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The commissioners have not decided to buy the site for a library at this point, Munger said. It’s also possible the county could lease the space, she said.

The results of the $10,000 to $15,000 study could be reported at the commissioners’ Jan. 23 meeting, officials said. A public input meeting also could be held early next year.

The county has budgeted several million dollars in its long-range plan to build the library branch. It would serve all of southern Orange County and has the support of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Other details about the site and services would be worked out later, officials said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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