Photos are from the Camden library’s new blog. Jonathan Wark, Director, East Albemarle Regional Library System & Dare County Librarian; Linda VanSistine-Yost, the new Camden County Librarian; and Mike Renshaw, Camden County Manager, were interviewed for this post.
As of July 1, the East Albemarle Regional Library System (EARL) and Camden County are very pleased and excited (and yes, exhausted!) to have opened the first public library in the county: Camden County Public Library. Before this historic moment, Camden County was the last county in North Carolina that did not have a public library or a joint use public and school library facility, though the County did have school libraries and also received bookmobile service from Pasquotank and Camden county.
In early October of 2012 Camden County expressed its interest in a library facility of their own. For many years, Camden County had been paying Pasquotank County annually for joint operation of the Pasquotank-Camden Library in Elizabeth City. Both counties are part of the EARL system. In recent years, Camden county created its own Parks and Recreation Department and hired its own economic developer, and saw significant population growth in the 2000s. In 2012, the county began planning to finally give their residents a library of their own as well . In a mere eight months’ time (a whirlwind of activity!) they planned, funded, furnished, and opened the doors of a new library. In this incredibly short period of time they also hired a County Librarian and library staff, selecting opening day collection and cataloging them – and everything else you can imagine is needed to open a library! According to Linda VanSistine-Yost, the Camden County Librarian, they have received incredible support from the EARL system as well as the county of Camden. In particular Jonathan Wark (Director at EARL) and Mike Renshaw (Camden County Manager) have been amazing in their support and effort to open the new library.
Opening a new library is a huge undertaking for a county. They applied for and received an LSTA grant administered by the State Library of North Carolina to hire an external library consultant to assist in the planning process. According to the new county librarian, this planning process with a strategic consultant ”really provided a great foundation, plan, and map for us. [The consultant] drew his plans from community input. I feel like I come to work each day knowing both the big picture and the more detailed picture; there’s no guessing what comes next. Everyone is on the same page, and it has been a really positive experience.” Jonathan Wark similarly found the strategic planning process to a good experience: “A formal planning process with broad community input allowed us to ask the community what they wanted and needed from their public library. We were able to use public feedback in designing library space, collections and services.”
The new county librarian was hired in early May. The library additionally has two full time staff and two part time staff members. On June 17 at 11:00am the library was completely empty: there were no books, no shelves, no computers or furniture. At 11:00am two weeks later on July 1, they opened their doors to the public! The new staff spent a fast-pace two weeks processing all the books in the collection together and getting them on newly-installed shelves. Linda says it was a great way to get to know each other and to bond at the onset of the new library.
The library is a 6,800 square foot building leased in a new business park, and cost about $450,000 according to the County Manager . The library leased the building for five years. The library has a community meeting room (that can be used after library hours), a children’s room, 10 public access Internet computers and one children’s computer, and a special section of the main floor for “tweens and teens” materials. Currently the library has around 4,800 items in its collection, but the space is large enough to accommodate a growing collection of up to 12-15,000 items. All the materials are new!
With its own building, Camden’s annual library budget is expected to climb to about $190,000 annually. The new library will be more accessible to residents and will offer more parking than the Elizabeth City library .
119 people (or 1% of the entire county’s population) came to the soft launch opening of the library on July 1, including Representative Bob Steinburg from North Carolina district 1. So far, the community’s reaction has been great. People are very excited to have their own library in the county. In the first week of the soft launch alone there were 398 visitors (4% of the county’s population) and about 15% of the entire collection was checked out. A full quarter of the juvenile fiction materials were checked out in the first week. The library staff worked with Anthony Chow (who served as their consultant during the planning phase) to develop some performance metrics to track from day one.
“We are very proud and excited. The reaction has been tremendous,” says Mike Renshaw, Camden County Manager. “We’ve even had to extend our hours already. We were opening at 11:00am but finding folks waiting at 10:00am.” The library therefore added an extra hour of service each day from 10-11:00am.
The library will have a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on August 5th 2013. Keep an eye on their blog for more details if you’re interested in attending.
Are you building a new library? Here are a couple tips from the folks in Camden County:
- Don’t try to open a new library in six months While Camden succeeded in planning and opening a library in very little time, the compressed timeline was certainly not ideal!
- The library as store front: Camden’s new library is one of the first destinations to be built in the newly-forming Camden Business Park, meant to mix retail, restaurants, and businesses. The library has the equivalent of four storefront windows and is adjacent to a pizzeria. The concept of library as storefront is an interesting one to keep our eye on.
Where is Camden County, NC?
Camden County home to a population of approximately 10,090 people  and is located in the North Carolina Coastal Plain between Currituck County and Pasquotank & Gates Counties. It is bordered by the State of Virginia to the north, and the Albemarle Sound to the south. Camden County is the site of the southern terminus of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, which runs along US Highway 17 up through Virginia and eventually connects to an inlet running into the Atlantic Ocean .
Camden County was formed in 1777 from the northeastern part of Pasquotank County. It was named for Sir Charles Pratt, First Earl of Camden, who opposed the Stamp Act and supported the US Revolution and the Cause of Independence .
Camden County is the first and only consolidated city-county in the State of North Carolina, and it’s county seat is the Courthouse Township of Camden. Camden County achieved this status in June of 2006, and became a Unified Government as of July 1, 2006 .