As Myrtle Beach positions its redevelopment strategy around a new downtown library, officials say the function of a library has changed.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said modern libraries are used as meeting places, points of free internet and computer access and service providers as much as they are book depositories. The current Simeon B. Chapin Memorial Library at 400 14th Ave. North provides that computer access — and space for events like genealogy club meetings.
“Here’s what I think a library of the future looks like: pretty much like Chapin Memorial Library does now, but with everything expanded,” Jeffcoat said.
The library’s acting director, Jennifer Nassar, said youth programs and early literacy services are a focus, but other offerings can be as diverse as legal clinics and smart driver courses.
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“We have definitely branched out, and that’s what libraries have to do,” Nassar said. “They have to be innovative to make sure that we are serving our community and accommodating their needs and their desires.”
Despite a steadily growing population in the city, the amount of registered cardholders has dipped in recent years, with the total numbers dropping about 20 percent in the past five years to reach 24,432 registered users in 2016. About 12,000 of those were city residents, and roughly 5,200 from Horry County.
Myrtle Beach decided to expand the library’s hours last October, bringing its total budget to $1,257,863, according to city spokesman Mark Kruea.
Jeffcoat said she was not concerned about the drop in cardholders because Horry County has recently expanded its library system, with a more recent branch in Carolina Forest.
The Myrtle Beach library’s future was not always so secure, however. Chapin Memorial Library is the only one in the state operated by a city, and City Manager John Pedersen said the topic sparked extensive debate at last year’s spring budget retreat.
“The city did an internal study of libraries, because we had the question of, what does the library of the future look like?” he said.
Jeffcoat said that as council discussed what to do, some questioned if libraries are obsolete and whether the asset would be better left to the county system. But she said council ultimately decided it was worth keeping the library, which has been in operation since 1939 and in its current location since 1948.
“Our residents appreciate the library that we have, and we decided we want to keep what we have and continue to operate it,” Jeffcoat said.