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Open Letter to the Citizens of the Greater New Bern Area — Petition for New Library

Friends of the Library logo and library sign

The Problem:  The 26,200-square feet New Bern-Craven County Public Library facility was last expanded in 1992 when the population of the Greater New Bern area (New Bern, Bridgeton, River Bend, Trent Woods, Township 2, Township 7 and Township 8) was 64,683 according to the 1990 census.  Currently the library’s only true programmable flex space is its large auditorium.  There is a small, tiered auditorium in the children’s department, a small meeting room (primarily used for tutoring) and a board room but these have very limited uses.  There is very little onsite parking.  The building had to close after hurricane Florence in 2018 due to flooding in the historic district.  Presently the floors are in need of repair due to that event and the trustees are seeking temporary space to relocate the library while repairs can be made.

The 2020 census population for the greater New Bern area was 99,267, an increase of 53.4% over the 1990 census when the library facility was last expanded to its current 26,200 sf.  According to standards just released by the State Library of North Carolina, minimally the main library should be 64,524-sf (0.65 sf per capita served).  To bring the library up to an exemplary standard, the facility would need to have 74,450 square feet (0.75 sf/capita).

Some might object citing current library usage by patrons, but there could be so much more use of the facility, were it to have additional programmable space and equipment.  Libraries are so much more than books!  Progressive, modern libraries, in addition to their collections, need space for large and small meetings, tutoring, makers’ space, STEAM programs, computer learning labs, digital media labs and other programmable flex space.

Moving the library temporarily and repairing the floors in the current facility makes no economic sense because the facility is inadequate in every sense of the word.  What we really need is a new main library that is larger, better geographically situated, more easily accessible/visible, and that has adequate parking onsite.  It could be the hub for entrepreneurs to launch new businesses; for citizens to collaborate; for job seekers to get help; for people to learn new technologies and skills; for those impacted by community catastrophic events to seek information; for homeschoolers to access STEAM programs; for makers to create (e.g., 3D printer); for artists and businesspeople to record—the opportunities are endless.  Were the library to be located in or near retails shops, both would benefit from the proximity to one another.

Modern libraries such as we just described can be a serious adjunct to the economic developer’s toolbox.  Innovative library services yield huge returns on investment, presenting local government leaders with a tremendous opportunity to grow their economies according to the International City/County Management Association. There are four ways that modern libraries do just that:

  1. Business Development—they help businesses succeed and expand which results in new jobs for the community.
  2. Workforce Development—technologies in libraries can be transformational, providing access to tools, training, and skills that might not otherwise be available without the individual incurring expenses.
  3. Return on Investment—can be quantified. The Library Research Service calculates the median ROI for libraries at $4.14 for every $1 invested.  Click here.
  4. Proximity Leads to Prosperity—proximity to the public library means greater revenue for retailers. “Patrons who stop at the library while completing a longer list of errands report “halo spending” at establishments close to the library. Conversely, shoppers who might not otherwise stop by the library benefit from free access to entertainment, enrichment, and education.”  Click here.

Here’s how you can help the CAUSE:

  • CONTACT the Craven County commissioners and other elected officials directly. Ask them to fund a new main library for the Greater New Bern Area.
  • ADVOCATE—ask family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and those in the community that you do business with to join in the conversation and to contact county commissioners and other elected officials.
  • USE the library.
  • SIGN our petition and help get others to do so.
  • EDUCATE yourself about the elements of a modern, progressive library so you can effectively promote its benefits.

By Joanne Straight, President, Friends of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library