“What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it thinks about education.” These are the words of Harold Howe, U.S. commissioner of education under President Lyndon Johnson.
Before deciding the fate of Chapin Memorial Library, I encourage Mayor John Rhodes, the Myrtle Beach City Council and Horry County Council to carefully consider Howe’s words as they apply to our community.
Myrtle Beach leaders have said they plan to issue a resolution this summer asking Horry County to take over Chapin library. This decision appears to be occurring with little public input and no study, though formal exploration was suggested more than a year ago at a May 2013 meeting of an ad hoc committee of city and county leaders.
I am against giving Chapin library away. And I am aghast that the city and county have discussed this possibility for years, yet appear to have done no formal study or survey of residents. I do not believe leaders are fully aware of the consequences of their decision.
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Chapin Memorial Library is the only municipal library in South Carolina and was established in the 1950s through a land grant by the Chapin family. A city employee at last May’s meeting stated that the land grant requires the building housing the library must be kept, or at least the footprint of that building. Any changes to the current area must be approved by the Secretary of the Interior.
Further, the land grant specifies for what the land, including Chapin Park, must be used. Councilman Wayne Gray suggests that the land, building and contents be given to the county; is he aware of the terms of the land grant?
The library has been the setting of fond memories for generations. Its collections are unparalleled by the county’s current offerings due to past financial support and its longevity. Unfortunately, like so much of Myrtle Beach’s heritage, Chapin Library as we know it today is likely to become yet another reminiscence. If given to Horry County, it will go the way of the Pavilion and the Ocean Forest Hotel; replaced with a shiny new building, but lacking in substance.
The substance is not just the incredible staff, but also the amazing collections, especially genealogy and the children’s library. Instead of being housed in one location, these collections will eventually be split among at least 11 libraries.
County Councilman Marion Foxworth boasts that the county spends just $4.2 million for its 10 county libraries. The cost to run Chapin library is $1.2 million. My response to Foxworth is you get what you pay for. I mean no disrespect to county staff because they are working within the budget provided.
In May, city council members rightly balked at a proposal to charge residents $125 for an annual library fee. While the idea was rescinded, I still question how the unreasonable amount was determined. Based on that rate and the 2013 library membership of 24,000 people, nearly $3,000,000 would be raised annually. That is about three times the current operating budget.
Gray and Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means have said they are open to keeping Chapin library as a city amenity if that is what residents want. But how have leaders sought residents’ input?
I propose that city leaders uphold their responsibility to the community they serve by providing informed governance. A formal study, with public input, is a must before any resolution can be put forth. Perhaps leaders would learn that in a city of just over 27,000 people, nearly 24,000 library cards were issued in 2013. The summer reading program had 2,705 participants, compared to 2,108 signed up for youth sports. Chapin library and its contents are valued by the community; leaders must recognize this.
A study could also explore other funding sources, including the accommodations tax. Similar to other recipients of this funding, Chapin Library provides community outreach, educational programming, literary and history presentations plus more. It serves our tourists and part-time residents, as evidenced by memberships from over 700 zip codes in 43 states and 23 other countries.
While I do not favor an annual fee for city residents, it should at least be examined. A May 3 editorial in The Sun News editorial declares any fee constitutes double taxation; then so do the fees imposed by the city’s recreation centers for residents. Pelicans baseball does not provide standard discounts to locals, even though taxpayer money continues to be invested into capital improvements there. Neither does the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel, a public amenity. County residents currently pay a $20 annual fee for a Chapin library card.
Before the city willingly loses yet another treasure, look beyond the budget for the rest of the story. Do your due diligence. Chapin library funding is an investment in community, in the vein of recreation and education. A vibrant library is vital to maintaining a sustainable community. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, who established the first library in the colonies: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.