By Taylor Boyd
The Blue Ridge Regional Library in Stuart will receive level funding in the upcoming fiscal year, rather than the 11 percent proposed in the spending plan.
The announcement by Clyde Deloach, chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, was made before the start of the public comment period on April 25.
Betsy Haskins, board member of the library system, said “our staff is absolutely amazing, and they go to all ends to solve every problem that someone has to get any piece of material, whatever version it may be whether it be a CD, book, or magazine.”
In addition to echoing Haskin’s sentiment of gratitude for the level funding, Rick Ward, director of the library system said the community cares deeply about the local branch.
“In the mid-80s, the community came together and raised over half-a-million (dollars) to build the building that sits there now. Back in 2016-2017 the community came together again to raise over $150,000 to buy the new bookmobile,” he said.
Ward said the library staff has not had a pay increase in several years, except for when the minimum wage was increased. “Half of our staff is now making minimum wage at the library due to minimum wage going up,” he said.
In 2005-2006, the library was funded $255,870. Ward noted that figure has not changed much in the 16 years since. “That’s why we keep coming every year, asking, saying please give us some money so we can give our hardworking staff a raise,” he said.
Lora Mahaffey, a member of the board of trustees and president of Bull Mountain Arts, said the consequences of not funding the library would have been far reaching.
“We do not imagine that we can do what we do without the existence of a fully-funded library. The library is a place to source artistic inspiration,” she said.
Mahaffey noted that many residents in the county’s more remote areas also use the library to get books and send important documents.
Margaret Coldwell said the library is more than just books – it’s a center of learning where people come to the library to gain computer skills and teachers seek out tutoring for their students. “There’s family and social support there; there is a safe haven for people of all ages,” she said.
Coldwell said the library offers enrichment for all ages and provides health programs that contribute to the health and wellbeing of all county residents.
Additionally, “it increases literacy skills, and we know that the library is indeed a continuation of your educational system. In fact, the library is a partner of your school system,” she said.
During summer of 2021, 130 participated in the summer reading program. The program “is crucial for children, especially to maintain their reading level across the summer, so teachers don’t have to spend time” catching students up at the start of the school year, she said.
Coldwell noted that libraries have historically been the responsibility of the local communities. “Really the employees of the library are truly your employees. The same as the school system, the same as your government,” she said, and asked the board to think of the library staff who have not had a raise.
“The staff are trained, and there is something wrong to me that some staff are getting $11 an hour. They can make more than that at McDonald’s now, and these are people that are trained and skilled at doing a wide variety of services,” she said.
Donna Marshall agreed. “You can go to Walmart and start at $12 an hour. They got skills and whatnot and they deserve it,” she said.
Since her son got his library card and started going to the library, Betthney O’Connell said he has read 707 books. “The library and the resources and the availability of those books that we read every night have contributed immensely” to his education, she said.
O’Connell said developing children usually learn about 3,000 new words a year with eight new words being learned every day. “Direct teaching in school accounts for about 10 of those words per week,” with conversations and reading gaining the rest, she said.
Lewis Turner said Patrick residents are supportive of the library and use its services. He noted that 36 percent of books checked out this year in the library system have been from Patrick County.
“Of all the people that have walked in the front door in all of our library branches, 30 percent of them have walked in or used Patrick facilities, and all of the people who have asked for reference some 24 percent of them were from Patrick,” he said.
In other matters, the board:
*Postponed the redistricting public hearing after Jack Betts asked the board to consider putting all of Belcher Mountain Road into the Blue Ridge District.
*Heard from Patrick County Schools Superintendent Jason Wood.
*Heard from Steve Marshall, of the Blue Ridge District, about the proposed increase to the Patrick County Sheriff’s Department.
*Proclaimed Saturday, April 30 as Robert Reynolds Day.
*Heard an update about the North Carolina Tower site from County Administrator Geri Hazelwood.
*Postponed a discussion about the fire and rescue exemption proposal until the May 9 board meeting.
*Heard an update from Chris Hughes, owner of Springs of Life Camp and Retreat, about the camp and the May 5 National Day of Prayer at the Patrick County Courthouse.