Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Library Deserves Help Moving to Next Chapter

(From April 12, 2007 Grand Haven Tribune)

Several years ago I had the opportunity to interview Patrick Sheane Duncan, a native of Hamilton (near Holland) who is best known as the author of “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” The film, starring Richard Dreyfus, was indirectly inspired by a library. In fact, the working title of the film was “Mr. Herrick’s Opus,” a nod to the library in Holland that Duncan visited frequently as a child. One of many children from a poor family, Duncan frequented the library as a form of entertainment and self-education. Years later he reaps the benefits. He started writing screenplays because he found too many products of Hollywood to be unimaginative. His imagination, sparked at a local library, has been fodder for a variety of stories. He continues to be a voracious reader as well.

Duncan isn’t alone. There are 18,000 people who are card-carrying advocates of libraries. That is, they have Loutit District Library cards. The interest in books and libraries has a long tradition. Cicero is reported to have said, “If you have a garden and library, you have everything.” Herbert Samuel opined that “a library is a thought in cold storage.” I have a bookmark with a quote attributed to Erasmus: “When I get a little money, I buy books. If there’s any left over, I buy food.” Then there’s this gem from an unknown commenter: “Knowledge is free at the library; just bring your own container.”

That last one is only true to a point. While a library card costs nothing, there are costs associated with maintaining libraries. That’s why the Loutit District Library Board is seeking voter approval of a bond proposal on the May 8 ballot to help fund renovation and expansion of the library’s Columbus Avenue building. I sat down with two board members, Dennis Craun and Sue Robertson, who chairs the Community Library Improvement Committee. They made a good case.

First, they resolved the location issue. There was considerable opposition to building an entirely new library at a different location. Critics didn’t want to lose the downtown location, and thought the relocation was too costly. The board listened and worked with the community and architects to come up with a plan that will keep the tradition of the current building and also meet the needs of a growing community and list of library patrons.

When the library was built in 1967, Craun explained to me, it was designed as a city library. It now serves not only the City of Grand haven, but Ferrysburg, Grand Haven Township, Robinson Township and northern Port Sheldon. The population the library serves has tripled. Plus, as Robertson pointed out, the original library plan could not have envisioned the demand for CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, and computer access. As the library has tried to accommodate demand in its current space, the available seating for patrons has declined from 100 to 20 seats. It is definitely a crowded place. It is also well used, with circulations over 200,000 for the past five years according to the library’s annual report.

Thus the plans for renovation and expansion. The plans would provide an 80 percent increase in space for the library. The extra room would allow for more books of course, but also a used book room, an area for public computing, more comfortable seating areas and a fireplace, and a room for programs such as author presentations and children’s reading hours.

While an increase in your tax bill is never welcome, the impact of the library’s request is minimal. For an owner of a home with a $150,000 market value, the average annual additional property tax will be $8.25. That’s comparable to buying one paperback book, two tickets to the Grand Haven 9 Theatre (even after they announced their price reductions), or taking the family out to a fast-food dinner. Plus, what you get for it yields long lasting and widely shared benefits.

I’m also impressed that the library board didn’t come asking for taxpayer money till they had worked very hard to secure other funding. If the proposal is passed May 8, taxpayers will provide $3.4 million of an $11.5 million project. They raised $1.3 million in donations, and they have accumulated $1.8 million in savings. The remainder will come from funding from the library’s current millage.

So the Loutit District Library has listened to the concerns of the community, it has served an ever-growing community’s library needs, and now it asks for a little help to move into the next chapter of its existence. I must confess that I live in Spring Lake and am not affected by this proposal. But I did support Spring Lake’s library expansion and have been glad I did ever since. I encourage you to support Loutit Library’s small yet significant request. You may be supporting another screenwriter in the making. But even if not, it’s worth doing for the community, and yourself.

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