CHPL ver. 4.0

I think we are in about the 4th iteration of the Chapel Hill Public Library debate, but whatever the number, it's an important debate about an important issue.  Four things stick out to me:

First, the Town Council has delayed moving forward with the addition.  As much as I want to see it built, the current economic situation being what it is gave them little choice. When the situation is more favorable I'm sure that they will move forward.

Second, the discussion on charging non Chapel Hill taxpayers revealed nothing new.  I will say it again:  study this carefully because replacing that $250K from Orange County with $60 to $100 usage fees might mean that you end up with less.  Also, this just might not be the right time to engage in a fiscal equity battle with the Commissioners, not to mention the PR ramifications throughout the County.  I know, others disagree, but ...

Third, each town department had to cut their budgets.  For a library there are several short and long term actions that can reduce a budget, but the one that is immediate is to cut service hours.  Service hours are linked to payrolls and payrolls are a significant budget item, so part of the plan was to cut service hours.  The new hours went into effect  December 1st and took us from 68 to 62 hours per week. The staff analysis of circulation activity tried to determine which hours would have the least impact.  Note that this is just circulation and not other uses, so some users will feel the reduction more than other. 

Fourth, I heard the "What People Are Saying on the Street" segment on WCHL this morning and it's clear that more must be done by the Town to explain what was done and why.  It was clear that some didn't understand how cutting service hours would save much money.



Budget-cutting and service hours can be explained thusly: by reducing service hours, the department reduces circulation/librarian positions from full-time to part-time.  Part-time is not entitled to benefits, so there goes a huge chunk of payroll.  We saw this happen in the Orange County system just a few months ago.  When the Carrboro Branch head librarian resigned, it was very hard to find a part-time replacement with a master's degree in library science.  (Our new head librarian is terrific, by the way.)  Those of us who have campaigned long and hard for a free-standing library in Carrboro have little hope of getting our wish anytime soon.  

Getting a Masters degree is not a cheap proposition.  Part time jobs are the province of folks who have a partner who can afford to pay the way and that's pretty hard with student loans. As well the Carrboro Branch Library is closed during school hours, eliminating all the parents looking for parttime work.I imagine CPL will have an easier time hiring part time employees for day time hours and circulation does not require a masters degree.   

That is not exactly what happened when the Orange County libraries reduced their operating hours, although that may be the case with the Chapel Hill library.   I am not familiar with their situation.  When Orange County-owned libraries got their new budgets in July, our line item for non-permanent (part-time) employees was significantly cut.  The libraries relied on non-permanent employees to work the circulation desk and other duties and without them some branches needed to reduce their hours which have since been reinstated with some financial maneuvering from the administration.  As far as I am aware, all librarian positions in Carrboro are part-time and have been for quite some time.  The permanent librarian positions do get benefits even though they may only work 20 or 30 hours a week.  It was the reduction in non-permanent staff (who do not get benefits) that caused the reduction in hours. 

I am so glad to read you write that!Fourth, I heard the "What People Are Saying on the Street" segment on
WCHL this morning and it's clear that more must be done by the Town to
explain what was done and why.  It was clear that some didn't
understand how cutting service hours would save much money. It's exactly what I am trying to do with the segment ... provide an outlet for random people in our community to voice their opinion in the media, and provide an understanding to the "higher ups" of what and how the typical citizen is regarding policy. Thanks, Fred  “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

How about doing some outreach to non-resident users asking them to ask their elected representatives to provide funding?     Even a little card that's given to all non-Chapel Hillians explaining the current funding situation might be a good start.  Improving funding improves library services for all users.   

I think, however, we can all identify things that need increased funding.  Will our elected leaders on the BOCC decide that the CHPL is a more deserving funding priority than other current needs? I think not, sad to say.

The CH library, like all local government offices, faces no viable option - at this time - to expand services or facilities, and may be forced to shrink service. The BOCC is not going to increase support and new or increased fees for outsiders is going to discourage County citizens from library use.Well, this is how a depression runs. Uncertainty, noncommitment, disinvestment, the Three Horsemen of the Economic Apocalypse. Planning for future opportunities is about the best we can do, but let's not build a wall of fees to keep out our culturally hungry County library users.Here's to longer check out lines.........Hey, lady, did you have to get 60 books for Junior on the day I'm here? 

Could this give us an opportunity to reopen the idea of having a truly functional Carrboro Branch Library?  One that is located close to downtown and has reasonable daytime hours?  I mean no disrespect to the current branch library (which is doing great on a shoestring) but I believe Carrboro is still the largest town by population in North Carolina without a full time library, correct?  That seems like such a travesty, especially when you consider the relative difficulty of getting to the Chapel Hill library by public transit.  Wouldn't a second location in the most densely populated part of the county make the most sense? 

Go to -- go over on the left and select the "Hard Times" topic and then select Libraries offer free relief from tough times." It does a good job of reminding us that libraries are not just for recreation --- people look for jobs, write their resumes, do homework and other research, etc. All over the country, according to the report, libraries are facing budgetary pressures.

I don't know about all of you, but I am really affected by the hard times our country is facing. Granted, we in O.C. have not felt the effect as other cities, counties, towns have, but we are still dampered by it. How far away are we from a depression? Because I am definitely getting depressed

From our editorial this week in The Citizen:

Balancing our books
We knew at some point some elected official would rise to make the
case for a library for downtown Carrboro. We just didn’t know that
person would be a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.
That probably wasn’t council member Matt Czajkowski’s intention when
he chimed in Monday night during discussions about the expansion of the
Chapel Hill Public Library. With a budget crunch and the credit crisis
making it an iffy year to issue new bonds, the council decided to put
off financing expansion at the Estes Drive location.

Noting the options, which include a proposal to start charging
non-Chapel Hill residents between $60 and $100 annually to use the
library, Czajkowski said it was high time to consider whether Chapel
Hill should drop its long-standing policy of treating those from
Carrboro and elsewhere the same as town residents.
Why, he asked, should Chapel Hillians subsidize people from Carrboro?
As several teachers have pointed out, one case against the fee is
that it would be disruptive because the school system, which makes use
of the place, has students from both towns.
Another reason, brought up quickly and succinctly by Chapel Hill
Town Manager Roger Stancil, is that Orange County’s $250,000 in annual
support is predicated on that open-door policy and would likely end if
the fee is introduced. In the long run, the fee might make sense,
Stancil said, but in the short term it would cost the town a quarter
mil in annual support.
Czajkowski’s suggestion that the council consider the fee did not
gain traction, but it did draw interest and one day could become part
of the long-term solution for Chapel Hill’s library funding woes.
With that possibility on the horizon, it is even more important for the
plans to move forward for a new downtown library in Carrboro.
Chapel Hill has a wonderful facility, but the need for a new library
to build on the efforts at McDougle is overdue. We know from experience
that a larger, more centrally located space would be welcomed. Because
of the limited space at McDougle, 30,000 books are waiting in storage
to be read.
The big appeal of a downtown library in Carrboro would be greater
accessibility, particularly by foot and bicycle, and the opportunity to
integrate a key public space with a thriving downtown. Likewise, there
are partnerships waiting with The ArtsCenter, the schools and the
Most importantly, as Chapel Hill’s experience has shown, there is a
huge demand throughout southwestern Orange County for library services.
It is time to rise to that challenge.



When times are bad, people depend on their local public libraries more and more. Recessions are the worst times to cut back library services. I don't have any other ideas for funding the library, unfortunately, but cutting back now is likely to have a disproportionately negative effect on the area's least fortunate.

I got involved in the library funding issue in 1993 when the new CHPL was opened, though I'm sure that it goes back much further.  Every year, the CH library board made a plea to the county commissioners for more funding, reminding them that Chapel Hill is in Orange County, and that the CHPL is the most heavily used, etc., etc., etc.,  (as many etc's as you want).  And every year there was either zero increase in county funding or a very modest one.There is one point that rarely gets discussed, and that I can best express with an anecdote.  At some meeting in the early 90s that was held in the library of Phillips Middle School on Estes Drive on a weekday evening, and which then county commissioner Don Wilhoit attended, I wondered out loud why the school library was not open to students at that hour.  We all agreed that the kids were 500 yards down Estes at the CHPL.   The point is that because of the CHPL, the school system, serving both CH and Carrboro did not have to build such large libraries and keep them open generous hours because the CHPL was serving as the defacto school library.  If the CHPL were closed, the county commissioners would not only have to ante up for a library in CH and Carrboro, but would also have to spend a lot more money on school libraries.  I can understand the commissioners attitude that if CH wants to volunteer its tax dollars to build an excellent library, that the county would not want to duplicate efforts, though this does have a negative unintended consequence, namely its impact on Carrboro.  

I'm a person who has loved libraries since childhood. My mother took me to our branch library in Greensboro every week-- as soon as I was able to "read" a book without writing my name on every page. I also remember that we had a wonderful bookmobile that made stops all over Guilford County. Those are fond memories; having that kind of easy access to books as a child is why I am still (over 40+ years later) an enthusiastic reader and supporter of libraries (and librarians).

Even if CHPL begins to charge an annual fee for out of town residents of Orange County, let's hope there can be scholarship programs in place so as not to disenfranchise anyone who cannot afford the cost of entry-- and not to turn away ANY child who shows up at the door for books.

There was a time when children weren't even allowed to enter libraries-- as mentioned in this New Yorker article suggested by

The Lion and the Mouse: The battle that reshaped children’s literature.

I believe that OP-ers-- and all fans of libraries-- will enjoy the article.

Thanks for sharing the article - it is enjoyable.

Here's an interesting and timely report on how public libraries across the country are now busier than ever, and why it's so important to keep them open during recessions:


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