Questionable figures from Farmville Public Library

The Farmville Enterprise February 13, 2019 Letter to the Editor

In the January 10, 2018 issue of the Farmville Enterprise our library director was quoted as saying “Over the past five years 33,496 patrons have visited the library.” Many of us wondered how that could be possible in a town with the latest U.S. Census population of 4,700. If every man, woman and child residing in Farmville visited in one of those five years, from where did those other 28,796 patrons come? Our library hosts numerous well-attended programs and graciously serves people from Snow Hill, Fountain and Falkland, for example, but those towns’ combined populations of approximately 2,062 would still leave us over 26,700 patrons shy of that published figure.

Instead of the number of patrons, did the 33,496 represent the number of times the “counter” at the library entrance clicked, indicating a visit? If so, writing “patrons” instead of visits would be like a Farmville church with an average Sunday attendance of 100 saying that they had 26,000 people in worship over five years. Most of those worshipers would have been repeat attendees from a pool of maybe 250-400 people, not 26,000.

If our library actually is tallying the number of visits, does the “counter” click when the employees come to work? If so, and this total is not deducted, just one employee coming through the doors only once a day for five days per week minus vacations would count as 1,200 visits over five years.

The January 2018 article cited that 25,330 items had been checked out of the Farmville Library over those five years. Here is a quantity that can be verified and one which makes sense. This would show an average of 5,066 items checked out per year or slightly more than 16 items per day.

In the January 23, 2019 issue of the Farmville Enterprise a member of the library’s Board of Trustees wrote, “In fact, 5,509 individual adults and 1,686 individual children/teens checked out an item from the Farmville Public Library in 2018. These were active patrons with a library card.” I wondered about the 7,195 individuals checking out an item last year and how many Farmville library cards existed, so I began corresponding with the library director. I asked how many people had a Farmville Library card and initially he wrote that 7,792 active card holders had a Farmville address. I asked how that could be in a town with the population of 4,700. He quickly responded that he just had wondered the same thing and got the corrected figure of 3,606. He would alert the State Library of NC, which maintains the database, of this anomaly.

Even if every single one of the 3,606 citizens with a Farmville address and a library card checked out an item last year that would leave 4,186 out-of-town patrons checking out an item in 2018, which would be odd. Library policy allows up to 20 items to be checked out on one card at a time. If those 7,792 individuals checked out an average of only two items during the entire year that would have been 15,584 items checked out in 2018, way out of line with the 5,066 item per year average cited.

I know there are a lot of fine people involved in this library project who would not intentionally misrepresent the numbers. They should not be disparaged just as an environmentally conscious person who worries about the current library building sitting in a landfill should not be disparaged nor one asking if the current $4.5 million plan would be the best bang for the Town of Farmville buck. The January 2018 Enterprise article stated, “To renovate and upgrade the current building, the cost would be $4.31 million. Approximately $156,000 of the $4.3 million would be used to get the structure to a point where it could be renovated, barring any other issues.” $156,000 to get the library ready to be renovated sounds reasonable, in the scheme of things. One would assume they have a way to correct or work with the soil problems in the renovation option. Why would we have to do a $4+ million improvement from there? Why not entertain more than two options which each cost over $4 million? What would a $2.25 million renovation look like, for example? Surely an architect could give some ideas without drawing up complete plans. With half of the current proposed budget couldn’t we continue to modernize, improve sightlines, and deal with the second-floor stacks which are causing sagging? Couldn’t major improvements be made and space added with $2+ million left after preparing the land and building for renovation?

Praises for The Farmville Public Library’s programs, technology and customer service are ubiquitous. I have not talked to one person who suggested that our library does a poor job, that it should not exist or that it should not get funds for some kind of renovation. I only have heard people skeptical about the published numbers shown above, and some not mentioned here, plus the wisdom of spending $4.5 million to demolish our beautiful library to rebuild in that location.

There is usually more than one solution to any problem. Could the Town of Farmville spend $1-$2.25 million less and still get a pleasing result for our library patrons? Perhaps some of the extra money could be used to provide needed repairs and possible upgrades to our Community Center on behalf of our elderly population. Ultimately, whether an improved Farmville Public Library costs $2.25 million or $4.5 million, there will be a nice place to welcome all people without prejudice to enjoy countless valuable resources.

Celia Stone

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