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When she arrives at work each day, Susan Eubank is happy. Happy to see staff, patrons and products — none of which she could see from her old office.
That’s because, until 2009, the director of Oldham County Public Library worked in a different administrative office, because there was no room in the library for her.
With one of the state’s lowest library taxes, Eubank and OCPL worked hard to make the building happen.
“It is such a delight to be able to come into this building every day,” Eubank said. “It was just a culmination of my dreams.”
Eubank now walks into the lodge-like atmosphere of the 30,000-square-foot Arts & Craft-style building, where she is still working on making OCPL the library system she thinks the county deserves.
“To make a great library, you need three things,” Eubank said. “You need to have a vision of what a great library is, you need the money and you need to have the space.”
In fact, only with the opening of the new main library two years ago did Oldham County rise out of the bottom ranks of Kentucky libraries. The Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives released a library standards manual in 2001, and for eight years, OCPL “scored at the bottom of the scale, largely due to the facility sizes and the collection sizes,” Eubank said.
This, she said, in a county that regularly leads the state in education and income levels.
But, from 1978 to 2011, the library’s tax rate increased just one cent per hundred dollars of property value. And, the OCPL missed the opportunity to increase its tax while the county was in its population boom in the early 2000s.
Not to mention that the current tax rate ranks 106th in the state at 2.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value — well behind Trimble (11.9 cents), Carroll (9.4 cents) and Henry (6.9 cents) counties.
Each year, the state gives government entities, including libraries, its calculation of the compensating tax rate and a rate 4 percent above that amount. The compensating rate is the rate which produces revenue equal to the preceding year from real property taxes.
If OCPL or other agencies accept the compensating rate – which does go down some years, like Eubank found in the early 2000s — state law requires no public hearings on the increase. However, to raise the tax beyond that, OCPL must hold a public hearing.
That’s what OCPL did at a public hearing on Sept. 1. The board of trustees opted to take the compensating rate plus the 4 percent increase, increasing from 2.7 cents last year to 3 cents.
Eubank and trustees were surprised at the number of people who arrived to protest the tax increase.
“I’ve probably had six public hearings where nobody showed up,” she said. “It gets hurtful when people are attacking you for something you believe in so much.”
The compensating rate for next year would have been 2.9 cents, so the public hearing was for the additional one cent per $100 in property value. So for a resident with $100,000 in property revenue, the bill will be $30 total — a dollar more than the compensating rate would have been.
North, south branches need work
The 4 percent increase in revenue will equal roughly $54,000 more for the OCPL, as it tries to bring its north and south branches up to par.
The Crestwood branch is 3,300 square feet and the Goshen branch is 3,185. Both branches are at capacity — there’s no room for more books, for more computers or even chairs.
“They can’t buy a new book without pulling an older book to get rid of,” Eubank said. And, patrons wishing to use the computers at the south branch almost always have to wait, she said.
Right now, Eubank said, neither of the other branches are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act code. The Mahan Library is on two levels with no elevator, so a person using a wheelchair would have to drive to the top of the nature preserve to access materials on the second floor.
Eubank has seen first-hand that ADA compliance can bring in more library patrons. After the main library opened, she came in one day to see a 10-year-old boy browsing books in his wheelchair.
“I thought, ‘Oh, wow, he could have never even gotten into the old library,” she said.
But Eubank thinks OCPL might be getting closer to its goals.
“With the donation of six acres on U.S. 42, the goal is becoming partially visible,” Eubank said.
In July, the North Oldham Lions League proposed donating six of its 25 acres in Goshen to the library for a new branch.
“We owe the fact that we got that property to a lot of our library advocates,” she said. The Goshen library would be no more than 15,000 square feet, Eubank said, and the library will strive to be a community center.
Eubank has applied for a grant through KDLA, like the $2.2 million one she received for the main library. But she worries the legislature may reduce the department’s funding to a point where the grant ceases to exist.
Cost-conscious at OCPL
The OCPL continues to be cost-conscious, Eubank said. The main library earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certificate from the U.S. Green Building Council, and saves 25 to 27 percent in energy costs because of design considerations.
The building has a 12,000-gallon rainwater catch tank, radiant floor heating and geothermal heating. The building is even oriented to deflect sunlight during the hottest times of day.
And, OCPL is hoping to sell its property on Ky. 146 in Crestwood after fiscal court approved a zoning change last week. The property was used as administrative space by the library, and was still zoned residential because government agencies aren’t required to re-zone. But, the home on the property is not livable in its current state — it has no kitchen or showers.
Eubank hopes the new office zoning will allow the property to be sold, saving the library money on basic costs for the building and adding to the general fund. That could help her make up the deficit in her materials budget, down to $120,000 annually from $180,000 three years ago.
With hardback books costing about $16, that’s about 3,750 fewer books each year.
The tax revenue increase and sale of the Crestwood property could bring Eubank closer to another goal. “One promise I don’t fulfill with this building is to be open on Sundays,” she said. “I would dearly love to do that, but we just don’t have the money to pay the staff.”
With over a half-million check-outs last year and 250,000 visitors, Eubank knows the library has the patronage to support her ideas.
According to recent Kentucky public library statistics from KDLA, OCPL averaged five books per Oldham County resident last year. With almost 36,000 registered borrowers, that’s about eight books apiece. Total circulated material, including audio books, videos and others was 453,725.
A library-use calculator from the American Libraries Association lets visitors calculate how much their library is worth. At five books per person per year, that’s worth $85, based off an Amazon.com average price of $17 per book.
For a tax people already pay, Eubank said it just makes sense for people to check out what the library has to offer. And it’s not just traditional books.
Through OverDrive, patrons can check out books for their e-readers, including Kindle as of last week. Free classes and events for children and adults include computer courses, story times, author visits and trivia nights.
With her 10-year anniversary as director approaching, Eubank continues to push for OCPL to improve and become the library system she thinks it should be.
“My goal, and the board’s goal, is to make all the libraries in this county reflect their areas and be adequate for their areas,” she said.