Officials open book on library idea

County and college officials are going to take a long, hard look at combining library services under one roof.Library consolidation was the main topic of discussion during Tuesday's Howard College trustee meeting, and about the only thing that was decided was that a lot more information will be needed before a decision is made on the matter.County Judge Mark Barr, county commissioners and County Librarian Hollis McCright joined trustees for the discussion, which College President Dr. Cheryl Sparks described as exploratory only.“All we are doing is putting this on the table and talking about it,” Sparks said. “We are a long, long way from making any decisions.”Sparks broached the idea of a consolidated library with other community officials shortly after the college received a $250,000 donation to modernize its facility. Having one library serve both the community and college might streamline services and costs to taxpayers, she added.“There was some discussion on this topic a couple of decades ago, but nothing ever came of it,” Sparks said. “We all thought this would be a good time to revisit the idea. Is this something our community wants?”Closing the county library and moving its books, staff and equipment to the college campus will be expensive, for starters.“If this is something we decide we want to do, make no mistake, we would have to add on to our existing space considerably,” Sparks said. “If we decide on this, we would need additional funds … and we would plan accordingly.”The reaction from almost everybody has been understandably cautious.“The biggest stumbling block is going to be finances,” Barr said. “As county commissioners, I think what we'd be looking at is what's best for the taxpayers.“There's going to be a lot of hurdles between here and there,” he added. “We'll definitely have to see some firm numbers to work with and see where we stand.”McCright noted that the logistical demands associated with a consolidation would be notable.“The devil is going to be in the details,” she said. “The county library has about 25,000 square feet of space, while the college library has about 12,000 square feet. The county library has about 65,000 volumes, the college has about 15,000. Then, there would be the noise factor. We have kids coming in and out of our library all the time, and they're not the quietest people in the world. I'm not sure college students would appreciate trying to study while a bunch of toddlers were all over the place.”Taking all the issues into consideration, Barr said it will take some time before a consensus of any kind is reached.“Both sides realize this is a pretty big mountain we have to climb,” he said.Everybody at the meeting agreed that more study is needed before coming to a decision.“If this is a bad idea, then obviously, we don't have to go forward with it,” Sparks said. “But if it is a good idea, then it's something we definitely need to plan for.”