Less county money goes to fewer libraries
PONDER — The Betty Foster Public Library in Ponder doesn’t look like a library.
It looks more like a large, cramped office filled with too many books. Shelves upon shelves of them fill the room.
The library takes up the east side of what was once a Baptist church, sharing the building with Town Hall, the police department and public works.
“I used to go here when I was kid,” said Judy Simmons, the director of the library.
Ponder’s library offers not only a vast array of titles such as the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight sagas but also a few computers with Internet connections and programs such as summer reading, similar to other libraries in Denton County.
“We’re more than just a warehouse of books,” Simmons said.
Unlike other county libraries that receive funding from their host cities, Betty Foster Public Library relies exclusively on county funds for budgeting purposes. The county’s money is deposited into a fund that is then divided among the participating libraries.
But this fund has been shrinking. Since 2012, the amount has steadily decreased from more than $500,000 to about $349,000 in 2014. This coming year, Denton County slashed $9,000 from the library budget, according to records obtained through the budget office.
And every year sees another library refusing county funding. In 2012, 14 libraries received funding, but for the coming fiscal year, only 11 libraries will be dividing the $340,000 offered by the county.
Each library has its own reason for not drawing from the county fund.
“If you accept county funds, you serve the whole county without charge,” said Cathy Ziegler, director of the Plano Public Library System.
More than 30,000 nonresidents had Plano library cards, she said, and the city decided the library should concentrate its services “on those who pay the bill.” Plano is located largely in Collin County, but a small portion of the city falls within Denton County.
“The county funding was so minimal to serve those people who were not residents,” Ziegler said, “so the city declined any further funding.”
Area libraries including Krum, Little Elm and Ponder are quick to point out that any amount from the county is welcomed.
“We’re grateful for what we receive,” said Spence Smith, director of Little Elm Public Library. “But we’re not dying; we’re not going away.”
One reason for this is a host of classes offered by the Little Elm library: robotic programming, English as a second language, adult literacy and citizenship.
The Little Elm library also booked wildlife educators and a few jazz performers. Science-based magic has also been a big draw. Smith said this summer the library saw an increase in the number of books checked out.
Denton County Budget Officer Donna Stewart manages the county library fund. It’s a balancing act. She must listen to county commissioners’ recommendations and find a way to lessen the blow to libraries.
For next year’s budget, she decided to waive the additional 10 percent cut her office had been implementing in previous years. She said she feels the libraries are still viable for communities, but she does question how long they’ll last with e-books, smartphones and home computers — all of which offer information at the tip of your fingers instead of four or five blocks away.
Donna Pierce has been directing Krum’s library since 2007. She’s watched the overall budget continue to shrink with each passing year.
“They’re taking a little bit more each year,” Pierce said.
The Krum Public Library is located in an old white Lions Club building on East McCart Street. It’s billed as one of the county’s first libraries to offer accessible technology for people with reading impairments.
It’s cramped inside, with hundreds of books lining the rows upon rows of shelves that fill the small space, but Krum residents recently approved a $1.3 million bond to build a new library.
Pierce doesn’t know what the new library will look like yet, but she said it will one day be able to offer more programming, like some of the bigger libraries in the area.
Similar to the Little Elm library, the Krum Public Library receives funds from the city that help supplement what it loses each year from the county.
“But we’re appreciative of what they’re able to give us,” she said.
In Ponder, the Betty Foster Public Library accepts whatever the county has to offer without complaint, but librarian Simmons is hopeful that the library might be able to relocate with the rest of the town offices into the abandoned bank building the town purchased this year.
It’s a historic red-brick building famed for appearing in Bonnie and Clyde, the 1966 movie starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.
CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-566-6878 and on Twitter at @writerontheedge.