DeSoto library use up; money not keeping pace

By The Associated Press

HERNANDO — Public usage is soaring at the First Regional Library system. The Hernando-based system serves five DeSoto branches and eight others across Tate, Panola, Lafayette and Tunica counties in Northwest Mississippi.

But in the busiest county, DeSoto, funding is not keeping pace with demands — to the dismay of librarians and increasing frustration of the public.

Librarians tell The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/nZkuZt) that people are clamoring for more hours at the Walls public library, while the parking lot at Horn Lake’s M.R. Dye library is perpetually congested. Southaven’s M.R. Davis and Olive Branch’s B.J. Chain libraries added Sunday hours, and it’s still not enough.

“If we opened at 7 in the morning people would be here,” said Suzanne Argo, head librarian at Olive Branch, the second-busiest library in the state. “If we closed at 11 at night, people would be here.”

“Last night we were busy from 3 till closing,” said Glinda Jaynes, library assistant at Southaven. “We had to take reservations for computers. You can really tell when school lets out.”

Jaynes was helping Renee Boice check out a stack of “Deadwood” miniseries DVDs. For Boice, the library is her path to a doctorate in English literature from the University of Memphis.

“The series is on my comprehensive exam list — there’s 175 books and movies,” said the native Californian. “The library here is wonderful, they’ve really been great about inter-library loans to help me out.”

For Bailey Shappley, who turns 8 soon and just got his first card at the Hernando library, the library is his trail to his first deer rifle.

“If I do good on my grades,” the DeSoto Academy student says of his goal.

“And how do you get good grades?” quizzed step-dad Joel Sweatt.

“By going to the library and studying more,” said Bailey, who likes “army books.”

For Jennie Pesce of Hernando, it’s her opportunity to assure her 1-year-old son Griffin “grows up loving books and wanting to learn.”

On a weekday morning they watched “Couch Potato Polly” (aka teaching artist Patricia Carreras) lead 100 excited Head Start preschoolers in songs and dances aimed at healthy eating and exercise.

For others, it’s desperately seeking that job application that’s only available online. Or maybe it’s just getting a recipe for coconut cream pie.

“DeSoto County libraries are blowing and going, we’re busting out at the seams,” says Catherine Nathan, First Regional director.

“It’s so important we have the latest technology to offer our patrons,” adds Mary Coleman, assistant director for technical services, such as the popular computers. For many users, especially low-income families and students, “the library is the only access they have,” she says.

Before the DeSoto Board of Supervisors last week, Nathan made her case for a fiscal year 2012 request of $1,417,896, a $106,896 hike above this year. The extra money would replace older computers — “we have 174 that are four years old or older” — add staff hours and bolster the Walls library “where people are clamoring for more opening hours.” With costs rising, fiscal 2011 funding was static, the same as 2010 at $1,311,000.

Supervisors were sympathetic but eyed limited options: Revenues are flat, plus three of the five-member panel are not returning next year. “It’s not a good time,” said Supervisor Jessie Medlin. He asked about grants but Nathan said none was available for DeSoto’s branches.