A task force created to help Rehoboth Beach and Rehoboth Beach Public Library officials navigate the transition from a one- to two-facility operation held its second meeting June 7. The primary purpose of the meeting was for task force members to listen to experts.
Near the end of the 90-minute discussion, State Librarian Annie Norman said among the most important things to consider will be operating costs. If the city wants to have a location serving the city, city officials should be supporting it, she said.
Library board Vice President Kay Wheatley was quick to show her appreciation for the funding the city has provided over the years, specifically the $75,000 it gave this year. The city had been much more generous in recent years, she said.
In an email after the meeting, Norman said libraries tend to be named for their location, so the public assumes that municipalities fund the library even when the majority of the funding comes from the county and the state. She said she’s not familiar with the specifics of Rehoboth’s budget, and that funding decisions are between the city and the library board, but $75,000 is not a significant amount for library operating funding.
The operating funding needs to keep pace with the number and size of libraries, said Norman. At current operating funding levels, operating two locations will be a struggle, she said.
Commissioners Patrick Gossett and Francis “Bunky” Markert are representing the board of commissioners on the 20-person task force.
Gossett said further financial support of the library is a decision that will be taken up by the mayor and commissioners once they know the details of the library’s plans for a continued presence in the city. He provided the level of city funding over the years: prior to fiscal year 2021, it was $15,000; in FY21 and FY22, it was $30,000; in FY23 and FY24, it was $75,000. The city will begin budget discussions for FY25, which begins April 1, 2024, in January 2024.
“As a part of the budget process, we will, as we have done in the past, ask the library to come to us with their plans for the in-town library and a specific request for financial assistance,” said Gossett.
Markert said he was in agreement with Gossett. However, he said, being part of this process is a valuable exercise, one that he wished the city had been included in much sooner.
Being part of the process allows the city to evaluate the services, and programs, and the value of having a library in town, he said.
Recommendations from other library representatives
Prior to discussion on operational funding, the task force heard from a panel of officials from other libraries that had recently gone through an expansion of an existing building or construction a new building – Norman; Hockessin Library Director Rachel West; Lewes Public Library board member Hugh Leahy; and Lewes Public Library Children’s Librarian and Program Coordinator Jennifer Noonan.
In short, they all reinforced each other’s ideas on things to consider: a combination of small and large meeting rooms that can be subdivided if necessary; separation of meeting rooms from traditional library space; appropriately sized staff space; as much storage as possible; thoughtful layout of amenities; being a library of things other than books; staffing levels and hours of operation; staff-led programming; exhausting the resources of existing partners before beginning the work of finding new partners; being flexible once the building is open.
Stay focused on what a library’s mission is, said Noonan. Libraries aren’t about books anymore, they’re about people, she said.
“It’s about connecting people to things that make their lives more awesome,” said Noonan.
The task force’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 21, at Rehoboth Elementary School, 500 Stockley St. The group is expected to begin discussing what services each branch will offer customers.