Why now? Why not? Opposing viewpoints on the Richland Library tax

dhinshaw@thestate.comNovember 2, 2013 

  • Where would the money go?

    On Nov. 5, the library is asking Richland County voters for permission to borrow $59 million for systemwide improvements. Some highlights:

    Main library: Renovation and reconfiguration. New heating and air systems; multipurpose meeting space and conference room; exterior improvements for families with strollers

    Ballentine: New library. Seventy-person meeting room and conference room

    Blythewood: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Teen space, meeting room, larger restrooms, learning lab, group study room

    Cooper: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Teen space, 12-student learning lab, two tutor rooms or small conference rooms. Expand meeting space with kitchen

    Eastover (completed in April): Renovation and expansion. Meeting room, tutor room and additional computers. Children’s area by EdVenture

    Northeast: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Small conference room, 12-student learning lab, expand meeting room with kitchen

    North Main: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Teen space, 12-student learning lab, two tutor rooms or small conference rooms, expand meeting room with kitchen

    Sandhills: New library. Lounge and exhibit space, 250-500 seat auditorium to be shared with a partner organization, computer area in children’s department

    Southeast: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Four tutoring or small conference rooms, meeting space with kitchen

    St. Andrews: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Teen space, meeting room with kitchen

    Wheatley: Renovation, reconfiguration and expansion. Increased children’s space

    NOTE: For all the details, see

— Tuesday, Richland County voters will decide whether to allow Richland Library to borrow $59 million to enlarge and renovate facilities countywide.

The proposal would reconfigure the interior space of the main library downtown and expand nine branches with conference rooms and community meeting spaces. If approved, the property-tax increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $12 to $14 a year for 20 years.

Following are some of the most popular arguments for and against the proposal:


The main library and its 10 branches have not been updated since voters approved the last loan package in 1989. That round of improvements included building the landmark main library now on Assembly Street in downtown Columbia.


More people than ever are using home computers to download books, reference materials, music and movies. The library reported 495,929 checkouts of eResources in 2013, an increase by nearly 800 percent over 2011, the first year data is available. The biggest numbers, of course, are for eBooks followed by eMusic and eMagazines.


More people than ever are using the library, which has expanded its reach to include helping people find jobs and teaching citizens how to use technology.


While library officials have spelled out plans for the money, they have not been clear about what needs are not being met now or what specific “partnerships” they hope to create to share facilities.


Like libraries across the country, Richland Library is re-evaluating its role to create branches that serve as community centers – with meeting rooms, conference rooms and kitchens – for civic discussions, collaboration among students and the sharing of creative ideas.


There’s no need to expand libraries so community groups can meet there. Schools, churches, community centers and even restaurants already provide free space for gatherings.


This is a great time for the library to get more for its money – to borrow money at low interest rates and take advantage of competition in the construction market.


Richland County voters just approved a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for transportation improvements. The local sales tax extends to groceries, too, which are exempt from state sales taxes. Many consumers are struggling; the cost of everything, from food to utilities, is going up.


The proposal would prepare for growth and touch every facility. Two new branch libraries would be built, one replacing the cramped Sandhills branch in Northeast Richland, which then would become the largest branch in the system; and the other replacing a small, rented storefront in fast-growing Ballentine.


The library is over-reaching and trying to sell the issue by offering something at every branch, even if needs aren’t critical at every facility.

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