With a couple of weeks under its belt, Columbia County's library has been a tremendous hit.
Already, I understand, more than 500 new patrons have signed up for library cards.
That brought back memories: I got my first library card as a youngster patronizing the bookmobile in my grandmother's Winfield driveway; somewhere in Columbia County is a young boy or girl likewise ecstatic at their new-found freedom to check out books on their own.
(And, if they're like me, to pay fines on their own.)
Thus far, the biggest criticism I've heard is a huge compliment: that it isn't open long enough.
That complaint certainly is understandable, especially with the Footnotes Cafe inside. Columbia County doesn't have a bookstore, and visitors really seem to want something comparable to a Barnes and Noble. The combination of the library and cafe delivers that feel - but then it all shuts down at either 4, 5 or 8 p.m. (depending on the day of the week) and is open just a few hours on Sunday afternoons.
Teens, especially, would love to be able to hang out in the coffee shop on a Friday or Saturday night, and parents would much rather them be there than in a bookstore miles away. But they instead have to leave when the place closes early.
Why the short hours? Well, back when the new library first was proposed, county officials knew that a bigger facility would mean more staff even if it operated only at the same hours as the Gibbs Library it replaced. The new library is open for three hours on Sunday - something Gibbs never had - but it closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Libraries aren't money-makers; they're county services, and are pretty expensive to operate. So county officials have to be sensitive to the demands for more service while balancing the cost to taxpayers.
The county obviously didn't want to give taxpayers too much of a hit at one time by adding lots of staff to maintain longer hours, but it also doesn't make sense to build something so spectacular and then keep it closed more hours than it's open.
That's long been a pet peeve of mine with school libraries: We have 27 little community libraries all over the county that are closed all summer long, just when kids need them most. How ridiculous is that?
Rather than seeing the library as just an expense, though, county officials and taxpayers should see it as an asset that brings added value to the county's quality of life - and one that's well worth it.
Meanwhile, I've used the occasion of the new library's opening to check out some very old books that I'd always meant to read but never had. With summer approaching, I'll soon break out some vacation-reading recommendations. And some recommendations on what not to read.
The amphitheater behind the library makes its official debut Thursday with jazz, and Celtic music and dance Saturday. And it will be the site Sunday morning of what promises to be a spectacular Easter sunrise service coordinated by First Baptist Church of Evans and Wesley and Mosaic United Methodist churches.
Once the community sees the amphitheater, I predict it will fast become one of the county's top sites for outdoor weddings.
Mosaic pastor Carolyn Moore helpfully points out that the best parking for the amphitheater isn't in front of the library, but behind the county's Building C (where the tax office is located).
"The back parking lot is the most directly accessible to the amphitheater and is also the best access to its wheelchair ramp," Moore says.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.