Commissioners take comments and criticism from Friends of the Library

Library Director Carolyn Wilkinson addresses the gathered county commissioners on a number of topics
Alex Mann
Managing Editor

Monday’s meeting of the Hutchinson County Commissioners saw extensive discussion and debate regarding the Borger library. Concerns raised by guests ranged from the time it’s taken to make progress on the gaping hole which remains four months after the wall’s collapse to the increasing desire to see a new library built. While other topics, including the retirement of Library Director Carolyn Wilkinson were discussed as well, the meeting began with a period dedicated to public comment.
“I'm sure you've all heard about the petition being circulated by the Friends of the Library asking the Commission to allocate funds for the construction of a new library.” Edith Stanley began, addressing the commissioners, “We want the Commission to know there are many county residents in favor of doing this. While some discussion has been held in Commission meetings about repairing damage to the existing building, it has not been apparent that consideration for a new library has been addressed. Why not? It's short sighted to continue patching an aging building without considering a new one, and something needs to be done sooner, rather than later. After all it's been four months since that gaping hole appeared in the library rendering half the building unusable. Funds that have been suggested for repairs could be better used to plan and prepare for the construction of a new building. A state of the art library that would support the needs of the many country residents.” She concludes, “We need a plan, and I plead with you to do just that. Develop a plan for a new library… Let's dream big.” Stanley was by no means the only one to share this idea, and other members of the Friends of the Library echoed her sentiments, including former Mayor of Borger, Judy Flanders. “I second what Edith had to say about a new library, and I also had some other concerns that I'd like to express to the judge and Commissioners Court.” Flanders began, “What happens if the air quality test comes back and says the building can't be inhabited now? What are we gonna do? If that happens, I think we'll need to look at a temporary location for the library. I'm also concerned about finding a new librarian. You all know Carolyn will be submitting her resignation, she's only got thirty something days to work... If I was a librarian on the job market, I'm not sure I'd want to work in a situation where there's no definite plan about how things are going to go. I think that's going to leave the library in Borger, and also in Stinnett and Fritch in limbo. Who's going to be in charge?” She continues, “I'm also concerned as a former elected official in Borger that that gaping hole is what we call an 'attractive nuisance.' How many people have tried to get in there? Maybe there are homeless people hanging out. I just think that's something the county needs to think about as far as liability.”
For their part the commissioners and County Judge Blanks expressed reluctance to completely abandon repairs on the old building. Not only had a significant amount of funds already been allocated towards the building’s inspection, but even if a new library were to be commissioned, having the old building accessible and functioning would allow residents to make use of library services even in the event of a lengthy construction process. Speaking to concerns over the lengthy repairs, Judge Blanks explained why the process was being held up. “We have engineers working on the process,” she says, “We have some ideas about the costs of repairs, and we're having them give us a full report on what the best avenue to pursue is. My personal opinion is that you don't want to go into an older building where you might have similar issues, and we don't have a money tree. It's the taxpayers, and we need to know what the taxpayers want to do more than anything.” In any case, Blanks reminds that a full report and plan would be needed before any sort of construction could be attempted, “Our hands are tied to move forward until we get our engineer's report.”
Frustration at delays was apparent however, and even Library Director Wilkinson’s patience seemed to falter as she suggestedthat Commissioner Eddie Whittington wanted to close the library altogether. Though Whittington unequivocally denied the claim, citing extensive work to make the library functional for guests once again, he did express doubts over just how much use the library sees. Concerned over the half million dollars that taxpayers pay into the county library system annually, Whittington wanted to be sure the library was being used by enough people to justify the expense. According to Wilkinson, over 50,000 patrons pass through the library’s doors annually, and combined book, cassette, and video circulations exceeds 20,000 each year. Though Whittington relented in face of the raw data, it still wasn’t completely clear how many people were taking advantage of the library’s books, as opposed to using wifi or video rentals. This was a key piece of data, since a multimillion dollar library designed to hold thousands of books may not move forward if only a few hundred people regularly check out physical books.
Disagreements melted away however as Director Wilkinson later delivered her official letter of resignation. Though the commissioners and judge had been expecting her retirement for some time, the news was still bittersweet. Judge Blanks herself read the letter aloud, “Dear madam and gentlemen, please accept this as formal notice of resignation from the position as Library Director of Hutchinson County effective 15 weeks from today... after careful consideration I have made the decision in order to spend more time with my husband.” She continues, “It has been a wonderful experience that has afforded me valuable opportunities to learn and grow, and I'm grateful to have been part of this organization. I wish you and Hutchinson County continued growth and success in the future.” To date, no plans have been made about a replacement for Director Wilkinson, but a special commissioners meeting scheduled this Thursday aims to officially open the discussion. Meanwhile the gathering wished Director Wilkinson well in her retirement, and before a receiving a heartfelt hug from Faye Blanks, the county judge voiced the collective mood, “When we were planning the budget, we had talked about her plans to retire, so this isn't news to us, but that doesn't make us any happier about it.” Blanks smiles all the same, “Congratulations.”