At least 20% of Floridians don’t have a computer in their homes, according a state report. To Flagler County Library Director Holly Albanese, it stands to reason that in a county with the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates, we also would have one of the highest rates of people without a computer, too.
“We’re overwhelmed with the number of people who come in needing to use the computers,” Albanese said.
That’s evidence, in her view, that the library is still essential, even in the digital age.
“Libraries have adapted," she said. “When computers first came out, people thought libraries were going away. Now look at us.”
The unsinkable Holly Albanese
Because of reduced funding for the library, a newspaper article several years ago called Albanese a captain on a sinking ship. She took it personally.
“I wanted to be the Unsinkable Holly Brown, not the captain of a sinking ship,” she said Thursday, surrounded by stacks of papers in her office. She was in the middle of preparing a presentation that she will soon give to the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners to make the case for more funding for the library. Since she took the helm in 2006, library funding from the county has been cut from $1.5 million to $900,000.
Because of those cuts, the library cut services. First, Albanese closed on Sundays. Then, she cut the Bunnell branch to three days a week. She has cut staff at a time when volunteer hours also dropped dramatically, from 19,618 in 2007 to 15,243 in 2012, or a drop of 22%.
And yet, Albanese has not let the ship sink. She started a passport service at the library, which brought in $46,000 in revenue last year — about double what the state of Florida contributes annually to the library’s budget. People travel from Orlando and Jacksonville because it’s the only place around that does passports on Saturdays.
She also has cut into her magazine budget to make room for eBooks and keep the library up with the times.
It’s clear from speaking with Albanese that she is a diligent manager of the library’s resources. She can be trusted not to waste public money. She is also full of ideas, from starting a café to expanding the walls and renting out space to clearing room for a sheriff’s substation or other government office to help the county save money.
Should we invest in the library?
The question is, should the county grant her wish of restoring her budget back to the $1.5 million it was when she started?
I’m in favor of investing in the library. Restore the funding, with strings attached: Start programs that will help generate revenue, like the passport program. As Albanese said, it’s just like a business: You have to spend money to make money.
Estimated foot traffic is 25,000 per month at the library. But even for those who don’t use the library very often, I believe a lot can be said about a community by the kind of library it has. And I want to live in a city that supports its library.