West Point City Council will hear tonight from library consultant Joe Forsee on its options for library services, after holding a “listening session” with local residents Monday night.
Residents fell in two camps: those who want to see the city bring support back for Bradshaw library in Valley, Ala., and those who want to see more support for Hawkes Library in West Point.
“You have choices,” said Joe Forsee, a librarian for 40 years who now works as a consultant around the state. “You don’t have to have it just one way.”
West Point is in a unique situation, with its independent city library. But with the city limits in two Georgia counties, Troup and Harris, it could also join up with the Troup-Harris regional library system. Adjacent to the Alabama line, it also can receive services from Bradshaw.
For years, council gave funding to the Alabama library and Hawkes equally, because residents used both facilities. Last year, however, some council members expressed concern about sending money over the state line. They also didn’t like sending an equal appropriation to Bradshaw when it was supported by its own tax and when Hawkes, almost entirely depending on the city for its budget, can only expand its services with more money.
So in December, council gave the bulk of its library fund to Hawkes and just $8,000 to Bradshaw, dedicated to its archives, which the city does actually use.
In response, Bradshaw started charging West Point residents $10 a year to use the library where previously services had been free.
“I don’t know how we got to this awful place,” said West Point resident Trudye Johnson, whose previous support of Bradshaw continued Monday night. “Last year we created artificial boundaries. Access to Bradshaw was cut off unless people could afford to pay.”
Some residents in West Point have a misconception that Hawkes is a library only for children, since it was originally built 96 years ago as a specialty library and named Hawkes Children’s Library. But now, Hawkes supporters say just as many or more adults use the library as children.
“We have the only public computers, fax machine and copier in the city,” said Michael Markle. “We are working to expand services at Hawkes.”
Debate centered on how the city could fund both libraries until Mayor Drew Ferguson IV – in a rare move – told residents not to worry about funding. He said the purpose of Monday’s meeting was for residents to simply say the services they want in a library.
Ferguson recalled the last two years’ debate during budget sessions where library funding has been a main issue. Coming up with a plan, starting with wanted services, was a goal before budget sessions begin this year.
“The council is asking the same questions you are,” he said, and feels like libraries are being funded without a long-term plan or mission in mind.
“We need to quantify why we’re doing what we’re doing and once that’s done we’ll have a clear path. When we don’t plan, we tend to fail. We need to create a vision or we’re going to wind up with the same discussion we’ve had before.”
The city got Forsee involved to outline the city’s legal responsibilities in offering library services and to outline what options it has available, along with the pros and cons of each. He spent Monday looking at the Hawkes, Bradshaw and LaGrange libraries and planned to look at other local libraries today. He will talk about the results of his work tonight at council’s 6 p.m. work session.
Forsee praised residents for coming out and talking to the council about their libraries and also praised the condition of Hawkes Library.
“I have to compliment you on its condition,” he said. “For its age, it’s the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a jewel.”