By Luke Brantley
GUIN — The Guin City Council met with members of the library board in a work session on Monday, Nov. 20, to discuss several concerns regarding the Marion County High School Elaine Junkin Community Library.
According to the City of Guin’s website page for the library, “The Marion County High School Community Library is a unique establishment in that it combines both a city and school library, which in turn allows for a greater impact on the schools and the community.
“Because of its nature, more books and resources are available than if there were two separate libraries. Access to computers and internet is an asset to the community and to the schools as well.
“People who do not have access to a computer at home may use the computers in the library at any time. Students not only come to the library to get information for assigned work, but also for pleasure.”
But this unique setup poses several key challenges for the city and for the school. One of the chief concerns is safety.
The city council discussed the possibility of closing off the library to the public over their safety concerns, but wanted to wait until the library board was present before making such an important decision.
The library is open on Mondays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 8-5 and then on Saturday from 8 until noon.
Most of those hours are during school hours, which prompted the council to discuss the safety implications of having a facility inside the school that’s also open to the public.
The council and the board discussed several potential methods for improving safety, and the challenges those plans could face since they would be affecting a public library.
Another factor of the library that was discussed was the amount of utilization of the library by the community.
“Speaking on the cost piece of it, I’m just speaking as one person, but I think everyone here still supports the idea of the community library,” said council member Bobby Bellew. “But when you talk about utilization, I think when we got the logs it was only one or two people a month. I may be under on that number by a little bit, but utilization is not very high at all. It’s very low, and the total cost based on our last audit a few years ago, is about $46,000 a year for us to operate it.
“We would love to be able to justify spending that money for the community to use the library.”
Library board member Ralph Christopher said that aside from books, the library also offers valuable technology resources, like computers for people who might not otherwise have access to one.
Public library director James Stanger explained the utilization statistics face one major obstruction.
“I want to be the first to say that I completely agree,” Stanger said. “I wish that we had more use from the community of the library. We do have some, but it’s not where we’d like for it to be.
“I think one thing that goes under the radar is that every student in our school is also a patron, but we are not allowed to use our school numbers towards the statistics of people that utilize our library. I would actually say that this year and last year, we’ve had more students reading than we’ve had in quite a while.
“Our school benefits tremendously from the fact that we’re a public library, and all of the resources that we have—the books, grant money, state aid money—all of that stuff, even if you didn’t consider the community, if you consider the benefit that it is to our school and our students, who are also members of our community, then it is without number how much of a benefit that it is.”
Stanger said the library would be hit hard if it lost its public library status.
“If they were to take away the public library from us, we would be left with almost nothing,” he said. “They would take all of our computer systems, books, movies, audio books or anything else purchased with public funding. That would be the majority of our library collection.
See complete story in the Journal Record.