The Herald Bulletin

May 14, 2012

Library, Friends at odds over space

New programming room to be built, affecting volunteer-run book sale

By Melanie D. Hayes
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The Anderson Public Library plans to turn a portion of the book sale shop into a new program room, which the director says will better serve its patrons.

But some volunteers with the Friends of the Library are concerned that it could have a negative impact on its book shop, volunteers and buyers.

The Friends of the Library has a large area on the third floor where all its books are visible to volunteers and buyers.

“This has allowed us to maintain permanent display areas and to have monthly sales,” Phyllis Smith, a Friends of Library volunteer who recently quit, wrote in a letter to the newspaper. “Most ‘Friends’ groups have no such area and must box and unbox their materials for each sale, limiting them to only a couple sales a year.”

Now the library plans on using space on the third floor, including a portion of the book sale area, to create a program room for in-house events. The Friends of the Library book sales raise money to fund those library programs — $25,000 to $37,000 annually for the last three years, said library director Sarah Later.

Joan Warren, president of the Friends of the Library, said she believes the group will lose at least a third of its space, including several bookshelves. Three volunteers will also be quitting, both for health reasons and because their areas will be removed. But, it will all work out, she said.

Currently the library has five meeting rooms available to community groups for free, and the largest two can be combined to seat up to 300 people.

“Our meeting rooms are so popular that we usually cannot book them for our own programs,” Later said. “It’s a good problem to have. We are very happy they are using our space.”

But with groups reserving the spaces on a regular basis, it doesn’t allow the library to host programs, such as performers, family nights and youth events, on a short-notice basis, Later said.  

In 2010 the main meeting rooms were used 1,325 times by the public. During that year, the rooms were used 334 times by the library, according to documents provided by Later.

The new program room would allow the library to have its own space for in-house events, she said.

When a space study was performed, the cost to build the new room was estimated at $300,000, Later said. Once architects complete the final design, the library will have a more concrete price tag and layout.

The project would be paid for out of the library improvement reserve fund, which has $760,000 in it, and is funded by transfers from the operating funds, Later said.

Smith, who volunteered at the library for eight years, thinks it is a waste to spend $300,000 on a new meeting space, especially in a tough economy.

She is also concerned that the construction will take away too much of the book shop’s much-needed, and much-used space. She fears it will mean that volunteers will have to move and box up loads of books, and sort them in a dark, uncomfortable attic.

“Move thousands of books? Me? No, I don’t think so. My days of volunteering for the Anderson Public Library are definitely over,” she wrote. She added that her health would not allow her to continue serving in that way.  

Warren said she believes the Friends of the Library will be able to make do and continue to serve the library and public with the space that they will have left. The space currently holds 55,000 to 60,000 books, and many will have to be sold by July to make room for construction, she said.

Warren’s concerns lie with the comfort of visitors during book sales. She hopes that they will still be able to move around without being too crowded. And she knows that two round tables, which are always full with people looking through books, will not fit in the new space.

Later said the local volunteers are very important to the library and she wants them to continue hosting book sales.

The Anderson group has the most square footage of any Friends of the Library group in Indiana, Later said. The volunteers will soon have a smaller space, but she thinks it will still work out well.

“As we look at our business and how the world is working, (electronic books) are on the rise and print circulation is down,” Later said. “In the future we are going to be buying fewer books and will have fewer to sell.”

Find Melanie D. Hayes on Facebook and @MelanieDHayes on Twitter or call 648-4250.