Magnolia Springs Public Library closure vote delayed

Editorial Assistant
Posted 3/29/24

The fate of the Magnolia Spring Public Library still hangs in the balance as a vote on the resolution to dissolve its board and close the library has been tabled until April.

Originally …

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Magnolia Springs Public Library closure vote delayed


The fate of the Magnolia Spring Public Library still hangs in the balance as a vote on the resolution to dissolve its board and close the library has been tabled until April.

Originally scheduled for the March 26 council meeting, the vote has been delayed until April 23. Magnolia Springs Mayor Ross Houser said he was unable to meet with the Magnolia Springs Library Board and Friends of the Magnolia Springs Library prior to the council meeting and felt casting a vote would be premature.

"Honestly, I think before we do anything, we all have to meet and talk about what we're going to do and where we go from there," Houser said during the meeting.

The decision to close the library follows a recommendation by the library board made at a town council meeting on Feb. 27. According to statements made at that meeting, the recommendation was made after speaking with the Friends of the Magnolia Springs Library and due to fiscal responsibility, low usage rate and changes in county and state level library councils.

"Regardless of how the BCLC is reorganized, the county is committed to continuing the BCLC's services that the municipal libraries depend on to operate," said Elizabeth H. Webb, director of the Baldwin County Library Cooperative (BCLC), one of the organizations that was reported as undergoing reform by the board members and one of the reasons for the recommended closure.

In regards to low usage, data provided by Kim Mumbower, product manager at The Library Corporation, which provides the software the Baldwin County libraries use, show the library had over 8,000 items in circulation from 638 borrowers in 2019, averaging approximately 12.95 items per borrower. This number of items per borrower was second only to the Bookmobile that year.

From Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 21, 2023, the library circulated over 35,500 items, an average of 8,875 items per year. The data didn't break the items down by borrower for the 2020 through 2023.

Another reason for the recommended closure was the fiscal responsibility of the library. Gulf Coast Media looked through public records provided on the Town of Magnolia Springs website and found that funding for the library has been an issue for several years. However, reports of donations, sponsors, fundraising efforts and more have kept the library afloat. While the director is a paid position, the library also runs on volunteer efforts. Silverhill and Elberta libraries are run by a mostly if not completely volunteer staff as well.

Community members were disheartened to hear of the possibility of the library closing. Gulf Coast Media reached out to residents of the town and patrons of the library on Facebook to hear their thoughts on the potential library closure. While no comments were in direct favor of the library closing, one commenter expressed the history of financial burden the library has taken on the town over the years. Another commenter mentioned that other libraries in the county are nicer. Other comments and emails included fond memories of the library, history and a desire for it to remain open.

"It was a lovely little place, and I have many fond memories of friendship, laughter and service to the community," said Elise Nodar, a former director of the library for two and a half years from 2018 to 2020. "The library is one of the only places in Magnolia Springs where people can meet and socialize. It offers programs for children. It provides free internet, computers and printing services to people who may be unable to make it all the way to Foley or Fairhope; many patrons walk or bike to the library."

She also noted that as small as the library is, it circulated more items per capita of patrons than any other library in the county in 2019, coinciding with the data Mumbower provided.

While Magnolia Springs Pubic Library may not have the circulation of larger city libraries such as Daphne, Fairhope and Foley, the patrons that visit the Magnolia Springs Public Library borrow more items than borrowers at other libraries indicating a high usage according to data collected in 2019 as shown in these charts. /GRAPHS PROVIDED

"It breaks my heart to hear that the library may be closing permanently, and I hope that something more favorable may be worked out," Nodar said.

The discussion stirred up some contention that casted blame on why it is in the position of closing in the first place and other notions. Former Mayor Kim Koniar addressed the recent comments regarding the town's library with a social media post in the What's Happening in Magnolia Springs Facebook group on March 12.

"I would like to clear up some recent comments about the library," Koniar said in the post. "The library was started by Alida (Given) and her friends with no money from the town. When the town incorporated, it wasn't the intention of the founders to start a library. When the comprehensive plan was done, having a library was not in the plan, and the town is legally governed by the comprehensive plan. Throughout the years, the town started giving more money to the library, and for that to happen, the library became a department of the town.

"I was always a huge supporter of the library and fought for more money for it when I got on the council. As mayor, I fought to approve the largest salary increase for Paige (Monaghan) and approved an even bigger pay for the last library director. However, over the years, the local community has not used the library as it was used 10+ years ago," Koniar stated in the post. "I want to address some misinformation."

Koniar went on to say that contrary to claims, she noted a decline in local children's patronage.

"Several people have stated how sad it is for the children," Koniar said in the post. "In our town of 800 people, there are approximately under 15 children under 15. Children have not been patrons of the library for years because we simply do not have many in the town."

She went on to say that the library used to hold programs, but in recent years those programs were not attended by local children. She also said that children have access to a school library that houses more books than Magnolia Springs could as well as weekly library sessions in school.

"Unfortunately, kids are on electronics more than reading," Koniar said in the post.

Koniar also said that hours at the library were reduced because certain days, such as Saturday, were the slowest. She also mentioned that Thursday hours were modified after the library opened at 10 a.m. on Thursday for a local book company to meet. According to Koniar, the company met once and never came back, so the hours were changed.

Koniar also mentioned that making the library volunteer run again was an issue as the SBLC would need someone in charge for the courier service, though that person could be a volunteer. According to Koniar, that worked for a little while, but didn't work out long-term.

"…the Co-op said that the library must have a director for service because the other member libraries were not comfortable with allowing their collection to come to MS (Magnolia Springs) with no one in charge," Koniar said.

Due to the misplacement of materials on more than one occasion, Koniar said that other Baldwin County library directors had concerns about volunteers running the library.

Koniar also addressed comments that the Town of Magnolia Springs said it would defund the library, saying that wasn't true. According to Koniar, council asked the library board to come up with more funds and gave the board time to do so. According to Koniar, one board member said they could get $100,000 by spring, however that hasn't happened.

"It is the board's job to find funds, not to rely on the town," Koniar said in the post.

Koniar also addressed rumors of library directors who were hired and dismissed, saying that the directors had all resigned. She further stated that as human resources are confidential, the reasons are not and should not be discussed publicly. She also dismissed rumors that one person resigned due to the town not funding their salary. According to Koniar, the library board and council discussed matters with this person prior to their resignation and spoke with them about how the shortfall in funding would be covered.

Koniar also mentioned a library survey being done at the end of 2023. Despite emailing to the town's listserv, an electronic mailing list software application that allows cross-communication between a group of people, multiple Facebook posts on the Town of Magnolia Springs Facebook page and the Magnolia Springs Public Library Facebook page as well as flyers posted at the library and post office, only two individuals showed up to the meetings.

Additionally, Koniar mentioned the town's attempts to seek assistance from Foley but stated that they were declined. According to Koniar, on two separate occasions the town and the library board went to the Foley Public Library for assistance with the Magnolia Springs Library but were declined both times. According to Koniar, it is not up to the Foley Public Library, but Foley City Council to approve the assistance.

Koniar urged respect for the difficult decisions made by the library board and town council.

"Sometimes the mayor and council have to make difficult decisions that not everyone will agree with," Koniar said in the post. "Please respect that the MS Library Board of Directors and town council decision without slinging any more mud or spewing incorrect facts."

Currently, the Magnolia Springs Public Library is temporarily closed. The decision on if the library is to remain closed is scheduled to be decided at the April 23 Magnolia Springs Town Council meeting.