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Branch debut dimmed by tight funding
Hampton Library
The interior of the new Hampton Park branch more closely resembles a bookstore than a library. - photo by Jim Dean

Other business

Also Tuesday night, Forsyth County's library board voted 4-0 to:

• Amend the system's food and drink policy to allow all beverages, covered or uncovered.

• Remove the $2 interlibrary loan fee, based on its inclusion in a courier state system, which covers that cost.

• Approve architectural plans for the Post Road Library, which will go next to the county commission.

• Also: Heard a presentation about the library's new computer system, which has offers many new features.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

Members of Forsyth County's library board had nothing but good things to say about the new and busy Hampton Park branch Tuesday.

Touring the facility prior to their monthly meeting, they raved about the features, which range from a children's section with computers to a "quiet room" filled with newspapers and magazines.

"This is going to be hard to top at Post Road," board member Kristin Morrissey said, referring to the system's planned fourth branch.

"It just gets better and better I guess," said Chairwoman Mary Helen McGruder.

The same could not be said for the system's financial prospects, which the board reviewed after returning to the meeting room at the new branch.

After some discussion, the board later voted 4-0 to approve a lean 2011 state budget. Member John Pearson was absent.

The library receives money from the state and the county, but its official operating budget and most of its funding comes from the state.

To maintain Hampton Park, which debuted Monday, the board plans to ask the county for an additional $124,000 in its upcoming 2011 budget.

Though proposed revenues slightly exceeded the expenditures for 2011 in the state budget, the library has taken some big cuts to meet it.

"This is pretty much a survival budget," said Anna Lyle, assistant director for support services. "This cannot be maintained on a long-term basis."

The system shed staff and hours in 2009 to meet the financial shortfalls, which are expected to continue through 2010 and 2011.

The library has opened some positions without benefits to save money, Director Jon McDaniel said, but doesn't see these as a "long-term solution."

Staff with benefits will have six unpaid holidays and no longevity pay under the 2011 budget, as was set for this year.

The board cut its materials budget by $80,000, a step it had not voluntarily undertaken before.

About $100,000 is left over from construction of Hampton Park. As a result, the library will be able to use that money in 2011 to acquire items for the new branch, McDaniel said.

In 2012, however, that extra money may not be there.

"We're still talking about stocking three branches for what we used to stock two for," member Tim Plotner said.

McDaniel said that could easily be the case in 2012 if the economy doesn't improve.

While the library will still focus on getting the most popular materials during a money shortfall, other areas could suffer.

"The long-term effect ... is that we will have a period of time where we just haven't kept up," McGruder said.

Board members agreed that the library remains in better shape than other libraries or county departments since they planned ahead.

Recent increases in fines and fees, which started in February, can help the library "weather the storm,"  McDaniel said.

"The increase in fines has really made a difference in terms of buffering some of these losses," Lyle said.

The library's small balances program, which has a collection agency call patrons owing more than $10, has brought in $1,521 so far. It also has stirred the return of many materials, said Stephen Knight, assistant director for public services.

Knight also reported a nearly 16 percent increase in checkouts since last year, showing more visitation despite all the money woes.

"I think our staff has stepped up to a tremendous level to make the library's performance seamless," McGruder said. "We look good because y'all are doing a good job every day."