The ongoing Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) disagreement between the city of Milledgeville and Baldwin County governments has left the fate of a satellite library branch in question.
Mere days after the Twin Lakes Library System (TLLS) Board of Trustees voted to close the Lake Sinclair Library due to insufficient sustainable funding from the county, the Board of Commissioners opted to fully fund the branch, located on Log Cabin Road, through the end of 2019. While the TLLS board did vote unanimously to close the Sinclair branch, members gave TLLS Director Stephen Houser the power to work out a new lease agreement in case funding was restored at the last minute. Since funding has only been provided through the end of the calendar year and not the library system’s fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2020, Houser said he will attempt to work out a month-to-month agreement with the building landlord in the coming days and hopes to have a deal in place by the end of this week.
The TLLS Lake Sinclair Library has been in operation since 2003, first farther north on 441 near the branch’s namesake before moving to its current space on Log Cabin Road.
Houser provided the newspaper with some figures that show how much the Lake Sinclair Library was used by patrons last fiscal year (from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019). In that timeframe, the Sinclair branch had 5,600 patrons (more than 100 a week on average) walk through the doors and the circulation count (books, movies and other materials checked out) totaled 7,500, which comes to more than 140 per week. For comparison, the larger, more centrally-located Mary Vinson Memorial Library in downtown Milledgeville had 83,000 patrons (nearly 1,600 per week) last fiscal year, while 125,000 items (just over 2,400 per week) were checked out.
Library supporters showed up at the Baldwin County Courthouse Tuesday, July 2, in droves as the Friends of the Mary Vinson Memorial Library hosted a rally to show commissioners, who were in a meeting inside the courthouse at the time, how much the library means to them. After the rally, many people made their way upstairs to the commissioners’ meeting room to address them during the open meeting. The TLLS director was among those who spoke during the meeting.
“The support both at the rally and in the county meeting room was tremendous,” Houser said. “I understand that there were a lot of speakers at the rally that were eloquent and passionate as they talked about the value of the library to them. It meant a lot. The rally was organized by the Friends of the Library, and we appreciate all the support they’ve shown us in this difficult time.”
The commissioners’ pledge to fund the branch in the unincorporated area of the county provides just a small win for the local library system.
“We’re happy that we’ll have enough funding to keep that branch open. … But, we are still presented with a shortfall of around $120,000 for the rest of the year. That still presents major issues for us,” Houser told The Union-Recorder Monday.
State funding for libraries comes in the form of grants meant to enhance library services, not cover operations. State library officials said that funding can only come into play if the library is fully funded at the local level, thus taking away TLLS’ access to the state’s PINES system used for circulating library materials.
“It still means that come July 31, if we don’t have enough funding we won’t be able to check out books the next day on Aug. 1,” Houser added. “We’ll lose all of our state funding, and all the other consequences that have been stated before — those will still take effect. Without that local funding, we’re not able to sign a long-term lease for that building (the Sinclair branch).”