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Community presses to keep library branch; Springfield civic leader seeking time to save site

The Springfield library branch closed its doors two months ago with Orangeburg County and library officials citing the lack of volume and usage as the main reason.

Springfield resident, former councilwoman and community activist Sylvia Hiers says the closure is not justified. She is asking officials to give her and the community six months to bring volumes and usage up.

"I can't count the sleepless nights I have spent over this," Hiers said. "Others have too. I am not the only one."

Hiers said the library is not only visited by individuals from Springfield but by out-of-towners.

"It is not just backwoods bumpkins who are noticing (the library's closure)," she said. "There are a lot of people."

Hiers is convinced the library is wanted and desired by the community as proven by the over 200 community signatures she received in a span of one day in August expressing the desire to "Save the Library."

Another 50 signatures were obtained from a second petition related to the public interest in being involved in a Friends of the Springfield Library group, Hiers said.

The group was formed with the intention of marketing and promoting the library in the community and fundraising with the intent of increasing circulation at the library.

Hiers said the signatures were presented to county and library officials in early August -- over a week before the library officially closed.

"They shut it before we could do anything," Hiers said, noting repeated efforts to reach library and county officials had and have proven futile. "In spite of continued efforts the county library system has given to the town or to me or to anybody else over here, no communication and no cooperation. Zero."

Orangeburg County is analyzing how to move forward in light of Hiers' request.

"We are in the process of looking at that," County Administrator Harold Young said when asked if the library will close permanently. "That is a possibility."

"It is one of those things where we are making sure we are trying to do the right thing budget-wise," he said.

Young said it cost about $17,000 to $20,000 annually to keep the Springfield library open, and the tax dollars for the facility could not be justified.

Young said the closure of the library is not about pitting one town against another. He said it is about using taxpayer dollars wisely.

"We have 17 towns and we can't put a library in every town," Young said. "We are strategically trying to engage the community and offer certain things."

"The Springfield area could be better served with a bookmobile," Young said. "The bookmobile could even be expanded."

The Orangeburg County Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to close the Springfield Branch in 2018.

But the library was kept open while the new 3,000-square-foot library in North was under construction to allow residents to continue to use the branch.

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The interior services for the Springfield location ended Aug. 12.

County and library officials say the North library will better serve the western end of the county. The library, which is located at 4585 Savannah Highway, opened in February. A grand opening and ribbon cutting of the building was not held due to the coronavirus.

"The citizens of Orangeburg County deserve more than what that location on Brodie Street could provide," Orangeburg County Library Director Anna Zacherl said. "The building in which the library was located made the library all but invisible."

"The circulation compared to the other branches in the county was very low," she said. "This was mostly due to the population size of the area and how little the branch could provide due to its size and location."

Zacherl said when the board voted to close the library, the number of items checked out was 1,278 for the entire year. It has dropped since then.

"Comparing this to other branches of comparable size, the Elloree branch checked out 4,567 items for fiscal year 2017-18 and the Santee library checked out 5,552," she said. "These libraries are open the same total hours as the Springfield branch."

Computer use at the Springfield branch for the year the board voted to close the Springfield Branch was 154, Zacherl said.

The Santee branch computer use was 804 and the Elloree branch was 619. All of these branches have three computers for the public to use.

Zacherl said a number of efforts were undertaken to keep the library at 210 Brodie St. operational, including offering new programs, altering hours, altering the collection and adding more computers. But the usage of the branch has continued to decline.

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Hiers denied that was ever done.

Asked if she felt there is enough usage to keep the library open, Hiers said, "Absolutely."

Hiers is also confident the library's circulation will increase both with the proven support via signatures and with county help.

Hiers cited a number of reasons the Springfield library should remain open:

  • Considerable investment has been done on the library recently, such as additional underpinnings, improved lighting and remodeling.
  • The library is only 13 years old and is handicap accessible.
  • Ample parking.
  • Stage/auditorium and meeting space.
  • The town does not receive any county support with the exception of the museums.
  • Town growth, both residential and commercial.
  • An available workforce. Hiers noted there are three librarians currently serving in public schools that would be available to serve in the library if needed. She said one individual already works in the library system and could work part-time at the Springfield branch as well.
  • No other library services offered in the town within local schools.
  • A valuable resource for students from Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High School and for improving the educational system.
  • Internet access.

Hiers also asked that if the county and library board are willing to spend money on building a new library in North, as well as in Bowman and Orangeburg, why can't Springfield receive some of these tax dollars.

"Who do you give the food to, the hungry or the full?" Hiers said. "Why are we always the red-headed stepchild?"

"They are putting a new one in there (Bowman) and shutting us down," she said. "Why not update it (the Springfield branch)? Why not help?"

Hiers said in the past, library and county officials were much more supportive of the library. She specifically mentioned the late Councilman Heyward Livingston. She said most recently Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, have expressed their support of the library remaining open.

The Town of Springfield, as well as grants and donations, helped pay for utilities, taxes, maintenance and supplies. The town also owns the building.

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Hiers said that through tax dollars, the county funded the librarian's salary and the process of running a library.

Hiers said over the years, she has raised over $2 million toward the building, which also houses a museum.

But she said it would be a "long shot" for the library to remain open strictly through private donations.

Hiers said there are several reasons usage appears low at the Springfield branch. These include the newness of the library -- it is only 13 years old.

"It takes time for things to catch on," she said. "We were the newest in the county."

She also said the former librarian had to resign due to health reasons. Other reasons for low circulation are COVID and low population.

Hiers said though Springfield is small, "small is not bad." There are no empty houses in the town and people are moving in.

"People come to live here by choice," she said. "This town and community are not backward."

As for the bookmobile, Hiers does not like the idea.

"If a bookmobile is good enough for the western end of the county, why build a multimillion library in North and in Orangeburg and close us?" Hiers said. "To me, bookmobile is a total insult."

"It is not a beacon to learning as an athletic field is a beacon to recreation and physical development and interaction," Hiers said. "It is there whether you are playing softball or not."

"So is a physical library," Hiers said.

Zacherl disagrees, saying the bookmobile is very convenient and beneficial.

"The bookmobile takes personal requests, offers a full comprehensive mobile selection of over 3,300 books, DVDs and audiobooks," Zacherl said. "We also provide Wi-Fi at the bookmobile stops."

"Our bookmobile currently has stops in Springfield, Norway, Branchville, Bowman, Vance, Eutawville and Roosevelt Gardens," she said. "We visit these stops twice a month. And we are looking at adding more stops in the future."

She said the library has hand-delivered items to users that are home-bound and those living in retirement communities.

"Also, people who check items out from the bookmobile are never charged overdue fees," Zacherl said. "Users can call up ahead of time to request certain materials to be placed on board for pickup."

In the interim, Zacherl said even though the library is closed, it still has computer desks, computers and shelving.

Zacherl said the building in the future can be used to house books from the Friends of the Library organization after the current selections still in circulation are removed.

The Friends promote public awareness and community support of the library. Funds from membership donations, book sales and contributions are used to sponsor various library programs and improvements.

The building will also still have internet capabilities.

Zacherl said while the Orangeburg County Library system will not staff the building, the space could be managed by other entities.

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In addition to the library, the property includes the Springfield Regional Museum, the Orangeburg County Military Museum, a welcome center,  the Artisans Center and Gift Shop and the Educational Exhibit Room.

Despite the closure of the Springfield library, Zacherl said other branches are doing well and there are no other plans for closures.

"In fact, the relocated and expanded Holly Hill location is booming," Zacherl said.

Zacherl said it is the opinion of the staff and many users that the location has already been outgrown and that a larger facility is needed.

The Holly Hill branch also serves Vance and Eutawville residents.

"Many Santee residents visit the Holly Hill branch, because their collection is larger than Santee, their facility is open more hours than the other locations in that region, and they have more room to provide programming," Zacherl said. "Before COVID, the Holly Hill location ran their full computer lab, helped with job applications and résumé building, conducted Storytimes every week, tutoring for homework help, as well as various other youth clubs."

The other branches are fully operational. All branches have Wi-Fi, computers, books, magazines and other mixed media.

All branches have staff to assist with printing or computer help.

Staff can help select materials for check-out.

In terms of children and adult recreational programming, the Orangeburg, Holly Hill, North and the future Bowman branches are the only branches offering those services. This is due to the size of the facilities.

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