Lou Encinias is president of the Friends of Brown Library.
Published 12:58 am Friday, September 26, 2008
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Brown Library —
Our community treasure
A library is a community’s treasure box of knowledge and information. It holds its history, its stories, its values and its resources — everything a community deems worthwhile keeping. It can also be the center of community life — a place where meetings and classes are held, where children learn to read, where students do their homework and adults find a job; where anyone finds pleasure in reading, film and music. Libraries today are where people can access computers, which they may not be able to afford to own, but which gives them equal access to world-wide resources. A public library is open to everyone and opens the world to one and all.
So it is with Washington’s Brown Library. The activity which goes on at Brown is nothing short of amazing. At any given day and time, it’s in use by people of all ages. At the counter, people check out books; in the children’s section, they’re reading to youngsters. Older patrons find large-print books or books on tape. On a lunch hour or an afternoon break, readers find comfortable chairs to read the newspaper or magazines or listen to music. After school or during their home-school hours, there are projects to do and subjects to explore. Computer use is especially heavy all day, including those in the history room, where newcomers can find out about Washington’s legacies or discover genealogy. The library’s fax and copy machines are also in demand. In smaller corners, literacy volunteers tutor adults and children alike, teaching reading and English language skills. Upstairs in the community room, groups learn foreign languages, listen to informative talks, teach each other entrepreneurial skills, talk about books and write down their lives for their grandchildren. Organizations conduct regular meetings and invite experts for special programs.
But how many patrons are we really talking about? For the one-year period ending June 30, 2008, the library reported 10,603 borrowers, who used 55,107 books, video discs and compact discs and borrowed 57,280 of them to bring home.
It was even busier in the warmer months. Each summer, the library conducts reading programs for children, funded mostly by the Friends of Brown Library. This past summer 379 children were registered — more than the Library could hold in its own building — and more than 850 children and adults attended 11 programs. Sixty-five children reached or exceeded their goal of reading 60 books or 3,150 pages. Children and their parents borrowed over 9,500 juvenile books. A good thing, too: these young people represent the future of our country, and a literate population is the mainstay of any civilization, particularly a modern, technological one.
If all that seems like business as usual, it’s time to remember that Brown Library has, for many years, been ranked high in our state by the leading organization which ranks libraries nationally. Brown has achieved this recognition of its excellence because of the support of the City of Washington and the leadership of its staff. Fortunately, Brown has always also had the help of many community volunteers, who understand how important Brown is and has been to their families and neighbors. The Friends of Brown Library, especially, are proud to have been part of this community support for the past several years.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who uses the library, that, in fact, the library has long outgrown its size. It’s time that the community Brown serves so well begins to think about serving Brown, too.
And that community includes not only the citizens of Washington, but also many of those who live and work in Beaufort County. Most of the funding for Brown comes from the City of Washington, and the City is to be congratulated for supporting Brown’s excellence even when its budgets — and all our budgets — are tighter. State funding is small. The few funds from Beaufort County are nullified by a strange offset mechanism, rendering them useless. The library also finds funds from fines and fees, and its library directors have been astute enough to apply for and win state and foundation grants for books, computers and programming.
One approach to helping Brown keep up with its use by city and county alike was to explore the possibility of merging the Brown Library with the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library. Two studies done by outside experts found first and foremost that the BHM Washington branch and the Brown Library are woefully undersized for the populations they serve. One study recommended one larger new building to meet the needs of Washington and its surrounding neighbors, but neither group of city or county leaders has shown much support for this vital move. However, as both the city and the county grow toward their own projections, the need for an adequate facility will also loom larger — and we suspect louder as well.
Meanwhile, it is critical that the community continue, and indeed enhance, its support of Brown Library. That support can be in the form of volunteers and donations to the library and the Friends of Brown Library. I am particularly proud of the role which the Friends have played in keeping the library a place of up-to-date learning. Not only do the Friends raise money through our books sales — both the annual book sale in January and now our equally popular sales each week at the Saturday Market downtown — our membership donations provide a great source of income, too, all of which go to support Brown’s programs, holdings and equipment. The Friends bring presentations by North Carolina authors and other historical and cultural events to make the public aware of Brown’s presence and relevance to our community. We do it with miniscule overhead expenses and an endowment fund that helps us ensure Brown’s support in future years, too.
Economic conditions being what they are, we’re proud of the generosity of those in the community who have joined the Friends. But we do need a bit more help. We need more book donations to make our book sales as wonderful as they’ve always been. We’d like to increase our membership and our endowment fund. We would love help on program and publicity committees and ideas about what we might bring to the community. And we want to reach new residents who may need the library and whose new talents may also be of help. Brown Library needs us now to give back a little of the great deal it’s given us.
Won’t you be a Friend of Brown Library, too? Membership cards and Friends brochures are available at the desk at Brown along with all the knowledge and information you need to live and work in Washington and Beaufort County.