County Should Reverse Decision to Leave Regional Library System

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Although many of your readers may not be aware of the significance of the decision by our county commissioners to withdraw Carteret County from the regional library system beginning in July of 2020, they should be.

Strangely, this decision was made by our commissioners in a closed session with no opportunity for public discussion or input. Contrary to what was stated by Commissioner Mansfield in an article in the News Times on June 23, members of our county library board were not aware of this decision and did not approve it beforehand. This has been confirmed in conversations with four of the board members, including the chair and the two representatives from our board to the regional library system board.

Since the county commissioner who was appointed liaison to the regional library system board has never attended a board meeting, I wonder how he played any part in this decision. [Editor’s Note: Two county commissioners serve on two different library boards. The county commissioner liaison to the system board is Chairperson Mark Mansfield. The local (county) library board liaison is Commr. Bill Smith]

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I can also tell you that none of the Friends groups of the five Carteret county libraries were informed or asked for their opinions about the value of being a part of the system which supports Pamlico, Craven, and Carteret counties.

 What will we lose when our county withdraws from this system?

  • Regional management of funds and personnel
  • Shared books among the ten libraries in Craven, Pamlico, and Carteret counties that get delivered to the library of our choice within a few days
  • Shared technological resources and processing of books
  • Shared resources such as expertise, joint grants and ideas generated in the regional Friends of Libraries meetings
  • The benefit of an additional $63,000 block grant for administration that the State Library provides only to regional library systems.

You may have heard we will gain by joining NC Cardinal, a program that provides interlibrary loan through the mail for 40% of the public libraries in North Carolina. NC Cardinal began in 2010, and according to the current regional library system director, had significant glitches early on, so our system decided not to join.

Two of the current disadvantages are that the books you request are mailed, not delivered by courier, and the State Library is never confident year to year that mailing costs will continue to be part of the service. Additionally, a new book purchased by a library is available only to that library’s patrons for six months. With our current system, a new book in any of the 10 libraries is available to any of us without waiting six months.

Your readers may not realize that our county library staff members are employees of the regional system. I hope our commissioners realize the county will now have to provide services for information technology support, financial management, book processing, as well human resources management for the 34 employees (12 full-time and 22 part-time) that the regional system currently employs in our five county libraries.

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So why did our commissioners choose to withdraw from a nearly 60-year collaboration? Frankly, I don’t believe the stated reason: “We can do more with less.” I question whether it will be less. Although it’s been requested, I have not been provided with any financial analysis that would confirm that statement. 

I have looked closely at the 2019-2020 budgets for each of Carteret’s libraries and for the regional library system. I have been assured that Carteret County’s contribution does not get spent for operating expenses of any other county.

The budget for the regional library system for FY20 is $4,378,259. Of that, the three counties contribute $3,106,094, and the state provides $378,378 for administration. There are other smaller sources of income (including fines of $116,500!) that total $893,787.

Carteret’s appropriation to operate our five libraries in FY20 as a part of the system is $1,190,000. Our contribution has increased only 8.67% in six years, less than the other two counties. Craven’s, for instance, has increased by 12.4% in those years and will now contribute $1,430,817 to operate its four libraries. Pamlico has had a 27% increase in that time.

By point of comparison, until two years ago I lived in a town of 20,000 people where I served on the board of the public library. Our one library had a budget in FY18 of $1,152,091. Carteret County, with 69,000 people and five libraries, had a budget in FY19 of $1,173,185. Seems to me we are getting a great deal!

Contrary to what has been asserted many times by Carteret County officials, Craven County is NOT pulling out of the regional library system.

The decision to withdraw was heavy-handed. This unilateral approach to governance is as nonsensical as the decisions to end MaST or to turn our school board partisan. It just hasn’t received the same attention.

The county can reverse its intent to withdraw from the regional library system at any time before July 2020. Please ask Carteret County Manager, Tommy Burns, and your commissioners to do just that.

Sincerely,

Susan DeWitt Wilder
Resident, Davis N.C.
Member, Strategic Planning Committee, Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library