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St. Johns County libraries doing more with less, even with population increase

6:01 PM, Oct 30, 2013   |    comments
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.  -- When it comes to population growth and funding for libraries, the two issues don't seem to be on the same page in St. Johns County.

Lyle Gastineau was at the southeast branch library in St. Augustine Wednesday afternoon. He moved to St. Augustine 2 ½ years ago.

"I picked a retirement place that was warm. I wanted to get out of the cold weather," he said.

He is part of the steady rise in population in St. Johns County over the last few years.

He also goes to the library about three times a week. It's a library system -- like many others -- which has seen a recent drop in county, state and federal funding.

St. Johns County Library Director Debra Rhodes Gibson said the library has been asked to do more with less.

From 2007-2012, according to Gibson, when the county's population rose 16 percent, county funding for the library dropped 12 percent. She said the funding from the state has "decreased over 84 percent in the last 6 year time period."

Meanwhile activity on computers in the library has jumped by 37 percent, Gibson added. All this, while the government is sending people to the library.

Gibson explained, "If you're receiving any sort of public assistance benefits, unemployment, social security, a lot of these agencies don't' have the staff and they've gone electronic. So they send you to the public library to use our public internet computers to fill out the forms."

Now add the health care act to the mix.

"That was part of the president's presentation, that your public library would be to assist you," Gibson noted.

She said there is a light at the end of the tunnel because county funding for the library remains steady this year -- mainly because of public outcry.

"We had a group of advocates who went to the commission and said we can't do without this, and this, and this... especially electronics," Gibson explained.

As for Gastineau, he's not surprised by the population growth. However, "Since I'm using the library so much, I'd like it to maintain the funding."

He echoes the sentiments of many others, whether they're new to town or not. 

----To connect with Jessica Clark, follow her on Twitter at@JessicaFCN or Like her on Facebook.

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