Will, creativity bring hope to Columbia City Community Library
Too often, tales of woe and despair overshadow success stories born out of our current economic situation.
Occasionally, however, one rises to the top. Such has been the case in Columbia City, where residents have rallied in support of their local library and have, by all appearances, secured a better future for it as an indirect result of negative economic forces beyond their control.
As Stover E. Harger III reports this week, as many as 20 volunteers turned out on Saturday, Aug. 4 to help sort books following the move from its former location behind the Mozzare Pizza shop to a modular building located at the now-vacant Columbia City Elementary School.
The volume of volunteers we believe exemplifies a deep, broad sense of community spirit in Columbia City. It also shows how people can be motivated to set aside preconceived notions about what is possible in support of a better path forward.
In this case, its a win-win.
St. Helens School District, having shuttered Columbia City Elementary School to bridge the gap between declining state revenue and expenses, will receive monthly estimated payments of $250 based on maintenance and utility expense.
Though small, any fresh investment to help offset maintenance costs should be welcomed. Plus, the presence of library-goers supplies the small, historic school with a pulse, and anyone who knows anything about buildings knows an extended vacancy leads to ruin and decay.
From the perspective of the Columbia City Community Library, the move provides a ray of future optimism absent just a year earlier. In fact, in April 2011 library staff issued a funding alert announcing the librarys likely closure due to Columbia Citys announcement it could no longer fund it.
There was too little money to hold the Columbia City Celebration, a key fundraiser for the library, and hence too little money to cover monthly rent payments and to keep a librarian on staff for an annual $3,500 stipend.
Friends of the Library and concerned government officials didnt want to start charging for library services, which had always been provided without charge. That aspect attracted library users from nearby unincorporated areas, including Warren, Yankton and Deer Island.
A request for donations went out, which the library community met in positive fashion. Book sales, garage sales and other fundraisers kept the library afloat.
Though the librarian position was cut, ultimately saving the $3,500 per month, Cathy Lundberg, who held the position, agreed to stay on as a volunteer. And now, with the move, the library is poised to save an additional $750 per month in rent expense. The savings is expected to return the library to a position where it can afford to purchase new books again, a practice that had been suspended due to the financial hardship.
Bottom line, the creativity of library supporters and the willingness of the school district to entertain alternatives for its facilities during this stretch of economic challenge have turned a negative situation into a positive. We would similarly encourage local officials involved in all aspects of public service to consider fresh approaches for overcoming the financial obstacles that threaten to compromise our communities.
What is to stop, for instance, portions of the Columbia City Elementary School from being leased to private interests? The possibilities exist if we can only set aside our ingrained perceptions, be daring enough to cast aside conventions and positively reconnect with our communities.