Public Library announces changes to save money for facility expansion

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In summer 2017, a park ranger from the Balcones Canyonland Preserve presented a nature program and participants made crafts afterward. This program is just one of many that draws anywhere from dozens to hundreds of patrons to the Liberty Hill Public Library. (Courtesy Photo)

By Rachel Madison

Several changes are being made this month at the Liberty Hill Public Library after leadership determined the need to cut back on expenses to better serve a rapidly growing patron population.

Library Director Angela Palmer announced via a letter on the library’s Facebook page Monday that due to the ever-growing amount of patrons the 2,400-square-foot library serves, several changes will be made to help the library save up money to eventually add on to its existing building to better accommodate Liberty Hill’s growth.

Currently, the library has approximately 5,750 active patrons, which includes those who have acquired a library card within the last three years. That number has at least tripled since Palmer started working at the library in fall 2013, she said.

“The reason we’re making these changes is because we’re between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “In order to save money for a new building, we have to cut back on what we’re doing now.”

Because the library is a library district and not a municipal or city library, its sole source of funding comes from a quarter of 1 percent of sales tax revenue generated by businesses located within the Liberty Hill Independent School District.

“The amount we receive is not increasing quickly enough to accommodate the growing population, but it is going up,” Palmer said. “The city [of Liberty Hill] and the Liberty Hill Economic Development Corp. are working hard to get new businesses to come to town. And typically, that’s how it goes. You get a lot of new people in and then the businesses follow. We’re just kind of caught in that upside down cycle right now because it’s not increasing fast enough.”

The first change the library is making is reducing the number of hours and days it is open. Beginning Feb. 20, the library’s hours will be Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1- 6 p.m.

The library is also reducing the number of programs it provides.

“For instance, we usually do a home-school program every Thursday morning and an after-school program every Thursday afternoon,” Palmer said. “We’re going to cut those to two a month instead of four a month. That saves a little on materials and staffing. We’ve also cut back on some bigger events. We usually have a big special event, like a ‘Fancy Nancy’ party in the spring, but we cut that out.”

The library’s book budget is also going to be drastically reduced—it will be cut by more than half. However, Palmer said because the library has received several book grants in recent years, she feels the library’s collection is robust.

“We’re going to focus on what people love the most,” she said. “I’m going to keep the books as current as we can be. I want to make sure we keep teens and adults happy with a current and good collection. I’ll be focusing on that while trying to make sure I don’t lose anything on the kids. It’s kind of going to be a dance.”

Palmer added that the library is not eligible for any more book grants for another six to eight months—she can only apply for so many grants within a year—but because of an $18,000 grant the library received two years ago, she feels the children’s collection is strong.

“We’re in a good place,” she said. “I just want to hold things current and not go backwards.”

The library is also changing eligibility for receiving free library cards. Those living outside the LHISD boundaries must now pay $10 per individual or $20 per family (more than two individuals in the same household) annually for a library card. These patrons can still be issued TexShare cards as well.

“We’ve never charged in the past,” Palmer said. “A lot of our patrons come from unincorporated areas of Leander and Georgetown. That’s great and we love having them, but those people would also get a TexShare card from us so they could go back to Leander or Georgetown’s libraries. That’s why we’re charging. That cost will mainly be for patrons who may not be paying our sales tax, so it kind of makes up for that.”

The library’s staff of four, including Palmer, will not see any changes. Palmer said the one positive in all the changes is that her staff will get a bit of a break.

“My staff won’t be working quite as much,” she said. “Because of how few people we have and the hours we were open, they were sometimes working 10 days in a row. They need a break because they are one of my most important resources.”

Palmer said these changes are meant to be short term, but she isn’t sure on a timeline for the expansion of the library.

“We own our building, but not our land,” she said. “Because we’re at Lions Foundation Park, which is a private park, and we don’t own our land, it’s hard to get loans because it’s a risky proposition for lenders. I’m hoping that the park board (Liberty Hill Development Foundation Board) will someday reach an agreement with the City [of Liberty Hill] to turn the park over to the City. Right now we’re in limbo. What we’d like to eventually do is triple the size of our footprint by adding on to our current building.”

While a timeline hasn’t been established, Palmer is confident that steps will be taken in the near future to make her goals a reality.

“We’d love to stay here in the park,” she said. “It’s a central location and we’d love to become even more of a community hub. We want to add on a larger children’s section and a meeting room—things the public can really use. Right now there’s no good place in Liberty Hill for people to gather like a community center. Our goal is to become the ultimate community hub and this location is good for that.”

Since posting the letter on Facebook Monday, Palmer has received dozens of emails, calls and Facebook comments from concerned patrons.

“The response we’ve gotten has warmed my heart,” she said. “We needed that boost right now. This has been a good time to educate people that we’re a library district and not part of the city, and about how we get paid. The responses have all been positive and people are concerned and want to help us.”

Because of the outpour of support from the community, Palmer said she is in the process of setting up a bank account where people can donate money to the library. She’s also looking into setting up a GoFundMe account for library donations and encourages patrons to shop local to increase local sales tax revenue.

“We’re also looking at getting a Friends of the Library group going because we don’t have one,” she said. “A lot of times they can raise funds that I can’t legally raise as a library director, and they can apply for grants that I can’t apply for.”

Ultimately, Palmer said these changes are scary and heartbreaking—but also necessary to move forward.

“We were holding even, but we have to make these changes because it’s come to a point where the population is growing and we keep getting busier,” she said. “We had to reassess and come up with an alternative plan so that we can eventually [expand] our building. I’m hoping a lot of positive and good will come from this, and that we’ll be able to provide a much better library in the future.”

For more information on donating to the library, contact Palmer at (512) 778-6400 or angela.palmer@lhpl.org.

Rachel@LHIndependent.com

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