Cost analysis may determine next chapter in history of main library

Local architect Fred Reed will be contacted about possibly conducting a cost analysis to determine expenses associated with renovating the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System’s main branch at the civic center and/or constructing a new facility elsewhere.

Thursday, the library board of trustees unanimously authorized Chairwoman Ann Talbot to determine what Reed would charge for such a service and then report the amount for the full board’s consideration at its Dec. 6 meeting. If such a study is approved, the panel would then decide the library’s future course.

Talbot and system Director Michael Sawyer reviewed some findings on the current facility. Talbot said a cost estimate just on repairing leaks within the building was around $50,000, and Sawyer disclosed that a recent survey indicated that roughly 10 percent of the main branch’s customers do not feel safe there. Sawyer said safety concerns centered on a lack of outdoor lighting for after-dark foot traffic, despite the presence of a security guard.

Sawyer also pointed out some flash flooding issues that have to be considered in efforts to enhance safety and said some remodeling is necessary for the hallway outside the first- and second-floor elevator. Meanwhile, costs for rewiring and increased wiring features necessitated by new technology needs could be especially high.

Sawyer said a bond issue would be a must to finance repairs or construction. Officials are aiming at having the renovations or new building completed by 2015, which Sawyer views as the library’s “real” 100th anniversary. The library was organized in 1913, but didn’t check out books until 1915.

In a related action, the board decided that an employee committee will select one of three firms that made bids to install an integrated library system, which Sawyer likened to an on-line catalog. The local system is among a constantly-shrinking number of libraries that haven’t already adopted such a system, which would likely carry a price tag of between $200,000 and $250,000 by Sawyer’s figuring. Sawyer said he hopes the new system can be “up and running” by April of next year.

Meanwhile, the board authorized customer counts at specific times at each branch and to have Sawyer report those numbers in December so hours of operation can be altered if counts don’t indicate current schedules should be maintained. The panel also gave a nod to the proper disposal of two microfilm readers and 11 computers, all non-working.

Sawyer reported that the recently-received microfilm 1940 federal census has proven popular among historical researchers.

“It’s receiving heavy usage,” he said.