You couldn’t blame staff at South County Regional Library for having a grim outlook on things in 2010. The library system was facing budget cuts that resulted in shuttered branches, slashed hours and calls for volunteers to help keep doors open as often as possible.
Memories such as those are fading into the past, as the south Charlotte library celebrates hitting the 1 million circulation mark this past year – a sign that, despite past budget reductions, South County is still going strong for the community.
“Even when we had our budget cuts, people did not stop coming in the doors,” said branch manager Susan McDonald. “They just had to adjust to our schedule: seven days a week to four, then up to five, now back to seven. The support from the community has been there all along.”
For the last year, which ended June 30, South County saw 1,380,877 items checked out. That includes books, CDs and videos. It was a 4 percent increase in circulation for the library, which also saw a 5 percent increase in attendance, McDonald said. While much of the increase is due to the schedule moving closer to pre-recession status, library staff attributes much of the increase to improvements in children’s services.
“During the summer, it’s nothing to see 9- and 10-year-olds come up with stacks of chapter books,” McDonald said. “We’ll ask ‘How long will it take you to read all that?’ and they’ll say ‘We’ll be back next week!’”
Two specific programs that helped circulation numbers are Get Set For Kindergarten – which gives parents an opportunity to see their children start interacting with others in a classroom-type setting – and Kid Lit For Adults – which is a popular program for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers and media specialists as it focuses on books young children may enjoy.
“South County has really been a pioneer in creating some programs that we’ve been replicating across the library system,” David Singleton, director of libraries, said of other programs. “One of those is sensory storytimes … designed with children and youth in the autism spectrum in mind. They worked with the local autism society as well as parents of children with autism to develop those storytimes.”
South County also has become a key meeting space for the community, as well as a spot for people to just come use the internet, so the system has put extra effort into improving wireless service to meet demand. South County is due for renovations, which tentatively are schedule for fiscal year 2018 and would cost around $11 million for a 4,000-square-foot addition and renovations to 33,500 square feet of space.
The changes will help the library as it works to serve the young south Charlotte population.
“The great thing about South County is it’s a very family-oriented location,” Singleton said.
South County makes up roughly 18 percent of the total circulation for the library system – a sign of the branch’s importance in Charlotte. It’s also a testament to the hard work of library staff, no matter how bad things looked for a while.
“For my staff, just to know when they go home at the end of the day (the 1 million circulation mark) explains” why they’re tired, McDonald said. “I think (the milestone) signifies that the library… we took a hit, but we’re still here and we’re still strong and we’re continuing to listen to the community and try to give them what they want.”