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Consideration to continue bookmobile service in Chatham County

Posted Monday, August 2, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - During their July 19 board meeting the Chatham County Board of Commissioners discussed continuing the bookmobile service while also reviewing options for potentially modifying the service in the future. Below are the minutes from that meeting pertaining to the issue.

Chairman Sally Kost described the bookmobile as “a rolling dinosaur”

The County Manager explained the specifics of continuing the service of the bookmobile while also reviewing options for potentially modifying the service in the future. During the budget process, the bookmobile was part of the consideration for discontinuance upon the opening of the new library. With a lot of feedback from the public, the Board is looking at how to keep the bookmobile going and also look at how it might be modified in the future.

Chair Kost stated that this is a topic of which a lot of people were unaware, and that since so many people are interested, the Board decided to allow some time for public comment.

Commissioner Lucier stated that it was his understanding that the bookmobile wasn’t dependent upon the opening of the new library; that it was dependent upon developing a communication strategy; that he brought up the issues regarding daycares and ensuring they would have service; that even after, by some alternative means, the bookmobile was not taken; that he doesn’t think the comments accurately reflect the discussion; that they askedfor a communication strategy, continuation until an alternative was in place, and for a few other things; and that it just didn’t happen.

Chatham County Bookmobile

The County Manager explained that Commissioner Lucier was correct, and that he was abbreviating the process.

Carolina Thorson, 1450 Manns Chapel Road, Pittsboro, NC, presented her comments to the Board and provided them in their entirety for the record as follows:
“I live on Manns Chapel Road, so I use the bookmobile at Cole Park. My family consists of my 72 year old disabled husband, who I cannot leave alone for extended periods of time, me, and my 88 year old sharp-as-a-tack mother who reads 4-6 books a week. She gave up driving years ago for health reasons. I have someone with my husband so I can speak with you today.

The loss of the bookmobile for my family has huge ramifications. In many ways, it is a loss of independence and freedom. The independence and freedom of the mind to go wherever the printed page may take you, is a wonderful escape, and losing the easy availability of books is a huge loss indeed. When one person in a home is disabled, the world becomes much smaller for all. Going to the grocery store requires planning; a 12 mile trip to the library can be insurmountable at times.

I realize that the $100,000 budget of the bookmobile is very tempting to usurp as you are currently finishing a new library: but I ask you if anyone has actually done a survey to see about the usage. I know you go to preschools and assisted living facilities now, and speaking for the disabled adult, I am saddened by the loss.

Selfishly, the bookmobile is much easier to use than the Pittsboro Library. The books are easy to see and to reach (important for those of us with bad backs or other physical liabilities) and the books are newer and up-to-date. If there is something we want, all we have to do is ask. Miss Edna knows all of her clients by name, and reading preferences. She has this magic stack of returned books on her chair at the front desk and always reaches into the stack for a new, unread book of two for all of her clients. I do not know how she does it. Many of the books in the main library are old and have been read many years ago, but you must look through the stacks to find something you want to read. Sometimes less and up-to- date is better.

You say the bookmobile puts too much pollution on the road, and that you have a little hybrid vehicle to deliver books. I think if you look at the number of people using the bookmobile, the carbon footprint would be much bigger if you take away our much loved bookmobile.

The use of the hybrid to deliver books means that someone must know what they want before it comes. The reason that bookstores have chairs is so that people can browse. We cannot do that with a small hybrid. I also do not think you can serve the numbers of people with a little car. As we age it becomes harder to do the skills that you as healthy active people take for granted. Many patrons of the bookmobile have no interest in using the computer to look up books as they have never used computers, or the ability is slowly slipping away.

I look at the homes on my street with wheel chair ramps, and I know my situation is not unique. We are just part of a silent, sick group who sees the world close in a little more each day. The bookmobile for me is a wonderful way to keep hope alive and to expand the world.”

Sally Sargent, 93 Oak Bluffs, Pittsboro, NC, stated that she is a physical therapist and was made aware of the bookmobile through some of her patients from Fearrington Village and Carolina Meadows. She stated that a lot of these people are elderly, their ability to navigate, drive, and walk is compromised by various health issues; that to hear their stories about what they are going to do, especially when the new library opens at the community college, is not feasible for them to get there; that she thinks the Board needs to think about the elderly who are not able to get to the library but are able to access the services of the bookmobile; and that she hopes the Board will reconsider their decision.

Chair Kost explained that during the budget discussions, they did talk about the people who were unable to get to the library.

Elizabeth Blick, 1450 Manns Chapel Road, Pittsboro, NC, stated that she is one of the patrons that has been hard-hit by the bookmobile not being there; that she gave up driving five years ago, is an avid reader, and formerly lived for 45 years in an area south of San Francisco, and was very active in the library; that they had a bookmobile and a service called SOS which provided books hand-picked books to individuals; that they also raised thousands of dollars by means of book sales; and that they had the bookmobile to go to a lot of areas that this Board would deem not needed.

Luna Mountainsea¸ 104 Stonesthrow Road, Chapel Hill, NC, thanked the Board for reconsidering this request to put the bookmobile back in service. She stated that she was extremely grateful that the Board is willing to listen to new information, willing to see the amount of people that are touched by the bookmobile, and that the Chair who has been her contact and been incredibly willing to listen and be responsive. She stated that Edna Johnson and before her, John Doyle, are not only librarians and bookmobile drivers, they are Chatham County Ambassadors; that in the northeast part of the County where it is a long trip to go a branch libraries, they are their contacts; and that those people and the bookmobile are their life-lines to a huge amount of people.

Chair Kost stated that the one universal comment that she received, was the high praise for the bookmobile librarian.

Tamara Schenck, 565 Chatham Drive, Chapel Hill, NC, stated that one way to cut the cost of the bookmobile might be to come every two weeks or charge a small amount per card, $10-15 per year per family; that it wouldn’t be too much per family but would mean a great deal to the library; and that she hopes the Board will reinstate the service as it is a wonderful opportunity for them to enjoy the books that the library has.

Chair Kost stated that those two options should be considered as they look at the long-term solution.

Commissioner Lucier stated that they had asked for three things at the June 14th Work Session: 1) a communication strategy; 2) alternative service to be provided before the bookmobile was cancelled; 3) they dedicated one position to that activity; that these things did not happen; that it has been put back on the agenda; that he thinks they have to return to their original decision, which was the bookmobile will continue, until a suitable alternative has been proposed and approved by the Board of Commissioners; and that he was willing to put it in the form of a motion.

Commissioner Vanderbeck stated that this was done prematurely without good thought in that when they had the librarian with the bookmobile, they did not call the information data that they needed to make a good decision; that they need to survey citizens to find out their geographical locations, how many there are, and the frequency of use so that they can craft something that they can address citizens’ needs.

Bob Elliott, 57806 Owen Drive, Chapel Hill, NC, asked if there would be a data base from library cards, including their names and locations. Commissioner Vanderbeck stated that he had not heard that offered during library staff recommendations.

Patrick Inman, 100 Hidden Valley Drive, Chapel Hill, NC, stated that there were a lot of the users of the bookmobile, and there would be more, except that it is not frequent enough or not what they needed, if the bookmobile times were not changed and the schedules were more firmly set.

Chair Kost stated that it was important for the schedule to remain constant so that people know what to expect.

Barry Tenser, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, NC, stated that one of the problems is that this was done mysteriously; that that no one knew about it; that they never got the opportunity to do what the Board is asking them to do; that they found out when Edna Johnson said goodbye; that Friends of the Library raises a lot of money for the library; that he is ready to give their money to the Chapel Hill library, as they are not being befriended by the Board of Commissioners; and that they should have been told about this awhile ago.

Commissioner Vanderbeck stated that he didn’t believe that anyone could question that this could have been handled better.

Commissioner Lucier stated that this Board of Commissioners has requested the information as part of the process and didn’t receive it and that is why they are discussing it again today.

Commissioner Thompson that he is in favor of continuing the service; that they have a service that has been offered by the County for a long time; that to stop it without explanation, certainly was not intentional; that it sounds like there are a lot of people that have enjoyed and need the service and look forward to it; that he thinks that they need to set a timeframe for getting the information they need to the Board of Commissioners in order for them to make a final decision.

Commissioner Lucier asked what timeframe Commissioner Thompson thought would be appropriate. Commissioner Thompson stated that he felt 90 days would be sufficient.

Chair Kost asked staff if they felt it was doable; that from the budget discussions, there are things that they could do to make the bookmobile more efficient whether it is to adjust the schedule or another delivery of service. She asked if it could be done in 90 days.

Linda Clarke, Library Director, asked to clarify that the data being requested was the number of people on a monthly basis, how many people at each stop regularly, etc. She stated that there is a data base, and it does provide a picture of the activity that is going on.

Chair Kost stated that one of the options is after they reinstate the bookmobile now, is to look at the various options for continuing the bookmobile and looking at alternative service delivery. She stated that the focus from the Board is to delivery library service whether it is the bookmobile or some other way; that it would be that plan they are looking for from the library director which would include continuing the bookmobile or other options and get community input on what those options are.

Mr. Elliott stated that he never read anything on why the bookmobile went away nor could he find any data on the County website. He asked if the reason was financial, to fund the new library, or something else.

Chair Kost stated that as part of the budget recommendation that was presented to the Board in May, staff made the recommendation to take the resources that were used for the bookmobile and to use those to help offset some of the costs for the new library. He asked which staff was responsible.

Commissioner Lucier stated that they receive the recommendation from the County Manager, who gets his information from the library staff; that the recommendation came from the County Manager to the Board of Commissioners; that the Board questioned it and he gave comments earlier about what was said regarding things that didn’t happen.

Mr. Elliott asked if that would not have been in the original budget for the new library, and how did the one hundred thousand dollar hole happen. Chair Kost stated that as part of the budget that was presented, the Board added seven and one-half positions to open the new library and approximately $360,000; that it was discussed publicly and openly; and that she understands that the community did not know about it.


Mr. Elliott stated that it seemed to him that when the library was built, the Board would have had to budget for seven more positions and it doesn’t sound like that was done.

Chair Kost stated that they estimate the operating costs when they approve the capital plan; that as everything is fine-tuned, the budget is developed a little more carefully.

Commissioner Lucier stated that there were no surprises in terms of what was proposed to them in terms of costs for opening the new library; that the only thing the Board questioned was the bookmobile itself; that they questioned the proposal that it be discontinued, and that it what they discussed; that the seven and one-half positions were what was expected to open a new building; that there were no surprises there; and that they compared costs to other libraries of like size.

Mr. Elliott asked if it was really eliminated for dollars. Commissioner Lucier stated, yes. Chair Kost stated that it was dollars, too.

Commissioner Vanderbeck explained that there were a couple of surprises; that staff does give operating costs and what it is going to take to get it off the ground; that he thinks it was approximately 45 days prior that they had a surprise in that the fire pump for fire protection, a booster pump, was needed and was going to cost approximately $240,000; that when you receive a “surprise” like that, things have to be adjusted; and that it was one of those things to which the Board and staff had to adapt and react to as there are a limited amount of revenues.

Diane Keasler, 505 Chatham Drive, Pittsboro, NC, stated that at this meeting, is the public going to hear exactly what is being requested of the library staff.

Chair Kost stated that they were asking the library staff to provide various options. Caroline Thorson stated that the elderly and more disabled people were not able to use a computer to order books.

Elaine Haidt, 24203 Cherry, Chapel Hill, NC, stated that she would like to know why the bookmobile has to either have fees imposed or shortness of schedule when there is a big library that can take a few hits; that it seems to her that the people in the northern part of the County are paying for services that should be freely available. She stated that it is her understanding that a consultant was hired to see where the new library should be and he said that northern Chatham County was growing very fast and the new library should be placed there; that instead, it was put in Pittsboro; that she feels that the users of the library resent that they weren’t told and that the suggestion that they pay for it and then the schedule is cut; that they are being made to suffer because of the budget; that there should be other places to cut beside the bookmobile patrons.

Chair Kost stated that one of the options a citizen said was the fee and has not been proposed by the Board of Commissioners; that as far as a schedule goes, in the discussions that they had during the budget work sessions, they learned that there were stops in Siler City for the bookmobile; that she questions that because there is a branch of the library in Siler City; that although it may be convenient for someone to go to the bookmobile in Siler City, she thinks those of the kinds of questions they have to ask as to efficiency; that they are talking about cutting the hours or schedules which are kinds of things they are going to review.

The County Manager stated that if it is agreeable with the Board, staff can look at the 90 day concept and get back with the Board by August 2nd; and that responding to the question regarding the consultant, he doesn’t think there was a consultant that said the library should be in north Chatham; that the site was always to be on the Pittsboro Campus because of the partnership with the Central Carolina Community College for that library; and that adding to the long-term plan from staff perspective is some of the developments in the northeast develop, they have been talking, with Briar Chapel, about space for a branch library.

Commissioner Lucier stated that the County Manager was absolutely correct; and that the conditional use permit that was granted to Briar Chapel includes a library there. He thanked everyone in attendance for coming to the meeting and sharing their thoughts about the bookmobile.

Commissioner Lucier moved that the bookmobile be continued and reinstated as in the past until which time staff presents to the Board of Commissioners a plan which would allow them to evaluate alternatives to continue that service; that this plan should emphasize both daycares and the elderly; that it should also include a survey of users including where they are and how frequent to guide them in helping to improve the service; that the plan should take no longer than six months to develop; that if staff thinks it can be done in a shorter timeframe, they should let the Board know and it will be evaluated in a shorter timeframe, but it should take no longer than six months; that the essence of the proposal is that service will continue essentially as before until the plan is received and approved by the Board of Commissioners. Commissioner Vanderbeck seconded the motion.

Commissioner Cross stated that he would like to know what areas are being served. Chair Kost restated the motion and called the question. The motion carried five (5) to zero (0).

Chair Kost asked when the bookmobile service could be reinstated.

Linda Clarke, Library Director, stated that she would recommend a little lead time to say that they are coming back.

Ms. Mountainsea stated that there are still people who do not know that the bookmobile is gone as they do not go every week and that if it is back by Wednesday, there would be a lot of happy people.

The comments from the July 19 meeting, follow comments made about the Chatham County libraries in the June 3, 2010 meeting.

Sybil Tate, Chatham Library performance manager, said the recommendation was to hire a total of 10.9 full time employees (FTEs). The library would be much larger and open for more hours, she said. Commissioner Lucier clarified that there were 18.1 FTEs for all the libraries. Ms. Tate said that there were 9.4 on the library staff, but that did not include technical services or the courier. She said that Orange County had 17 FTEs, but it has a two-story building and a larger population. Commissioner Lucier and Ms. Tate discussed the document and how the population figure should indicate that it includes Hillsborough plus unincorporated areas.

Chair Kost asked what the Friends of the Library were funding. Ms. Paschal said they were upgrading the vehicle and buying materials, but were not funding any operating costs.

Commissioners Lucier and Vanderbeck questioned the comparison to other jurisdictions and Chair Kost described them as wishy-washy. Ms. Tate said that she had merely wanted to show that the library would now have a bigger space and be open more hours. They do have fewer employees than other county libraries, but they have a lower population so it is okay to be at the lower end, she said.

Commissioner Lucier questioned the statement that staffing was at or below comparable areas. Commissioner Vanderbeck said that "at or below" was not a true statement. The valuable number was that Chatham was 39 out of 77, he said, noting that the County was right in the middle. Commissioner Lucier recommended that Ms. Tate use that figure to make her point.

Chair Kost asked if 7.9 new positions would be adequate, and Library Director Linda Clark replied that she hoped it would be. She said that they would start to document how many people come into the Library. People who never came before probably would start coming to the new library, she said.

Commissioner Lucier pointed out that the Library was next to the Community College, so students probably would migrate to it. It is also close to the Senior Center, he said. Commissioner Lucier asked when everyone would be hired, and Ms. Clark replied that they hoped to begin operating on July 1, 2010 and to be there for the full fiscal year.

Chair Kost mentioned the bookmobile. Ms. Clark provided some history on bookmobiles, and said the Chatham County vehicle had declined since the 1970s. With the new Library, and with people able to travel now, it would be best to consolidate their resources and encourage people, particularly children, to come in and have a relationship with the Library, she said.

Commissioner Lucier asked Ms. Clark if she thought day care centers would load kids up and take them to the Library. Ms. Clark replied that she thought they would. Commissioner Lucier said he thought that was more problematic, and Ms. Clark replied that transportation could be a bit of a problem. She talked with Friends of the Library about a project to deliver books to daycare centers that request them, she said.

Commissioner Lucier asked Ms. Clark if she had communicated that strategy to the daycares, because some of them seem to be unaware of it. Chair Kost described the bookmobile as "a rolling dinosaur," but added that there was a need to get books to people who do not have mobility, which includes children and seniors.

Commissioner Lucier explained that people from three daycares had called him and said they had heard that the Board was taking the bookmobile out of the budget. Obviously, there is a communication issue, he said. Ms. Clark apologized for that, and said she had not intended that to be the message. Once the library staff can know what will become of the bookmobile, they can develop a clear message about book delivery, she said.

Ms. Clark pointed out that the bookmobile gets five miles to the gallon and that one needed a commercial driver’s license to drive it. Chair Kost asked about using the Library’s hybrid vehicle to shuttle materials to senior centers and daycare centers. Ms. Clark said that volunteers from the Friends of the Library would provide the transportation.

Commissioner Lucier recommended getting a letter out to those who use the book mobile explaining what the strategy was, when the new service would begin, and how to access that service. Commissioner Vanderbeck agreed that it was important to do that soon, and in concert with the Friends if they are going to take it over.

Chair Kost noted that there would be a grand ribbon cutting ceremony for adults, but suggested thinking about one geared to the children as well. Ms. Clark thought that was a great idea. Chair Kost verified that the Board agreed with Library’s decision to discontinue the bookmobile. Commissioner Lucier added that it was dependent upon an immediate communication strategy.

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