On a recent Saturday morning, the children’s section of the Beaufort Branch library downtown was packed wall-to-wall with children and parents.
Whether it was the cold that drove them indoors or a simple, abiding love of books is uncertain. The fact is they were there, and there were enough of them to warrant the section librarian asking if the library needed an expansion. The question might have been rhetorical, but it’s not a bad one.
The organization of the Beaufort Library dates back to 1755. Books were treasured in colonial America, and perhaps even more so during the Civil War. That’s when occupying Federal troops seized many of the books in the Beaufort collection that were not shipped to New York for public auction. Beaufort unimaginably survived without a proper library for 40 years.
The current downtown branch was built in 1964 to house a growing collection. The growth of materials has not stopped, though construction certainly has.
“We can only renovate so much,” said Ray McBride, Director of the Beaufort County Public Library System.
“Unfortunately, due to building design and space limitations there is virtually no way to expand the physical space of the children's section in any of our branch libraries.”
McBride has been on the job less than a year, yet already the need for more space has crept into his public discourse. He points out that all options are on the table in terms of expansion as library leaders sit down to develop a three-year strategic plan, including addressing the ever-present issue of downtown parking for patrons.
Though McBride has rebuilt staffing levels at all branches and significantly increased the number of materials available online, what’s left unsaid is that, particularly with the Beaufort branch, you can only build up — not out. That’s an issue when you have positives like increased materials and increased patrons.
Meanwhile, McBride says that the children’s section of all branches is “very well used.”
That much is evident on that cold Saturday, with all computers in use. Those not online were among the shelves and tables, flipping through everything from Dr. Seuss books to the Junie B. Jones paperbacks, all with gentle parental guidance.
See, that’s where it all starts.
When you get a child used to coming to the library and using the materials — both paper and digital — you likely foster a lifetime user. That must have happened back in 1964, since the Beaufort building has nearly outgrown its space as these lifetime users have multiplied over the years. McBride knows this model, and it’s one reason the children’s summer program is expanding and the children’s section is testing new mobile software to reach rural users.
On another Saturday morning a couple of years ago, the late Julian Levin wandered into the children’s section. It had been a long time since he had been a child, himself, but he scanned the room full of eager users and smiled to himself. “Keep up the good work, young man,” he told my then-five-year-old son.
Let’s hope my son, when he is older and wiser like Mr. Levin, will pass along the same encouragement to the next generation of library users.
Let’s also hope that occurs in a new, spacious library
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.