By Stefanie Jackson – It’s budget season in Northampton County, and supervisors are hearing updates from local organizations about the benefits they provide the county and the funds they need to continue their work.
Cara Burton is the director of the Eastern Shore Public Library (ESPL), which has four locations, including two in Northampton County – the Northampton Free Library, in Nassawadox, and the Cape Charles Memorial Library.
“Unlike a lot of libraries across the country, we actually have been having an increase in use,” she said.
From 2003 to 2019, the number of Eastern Shore library card holders more than doubled, from 7,899 to 19,508.
Circulation spiked in 2013 when the library began lending DVDs, and there was an ongoing demand for library services due to the recession, Burton continued.
Library attendance has continued to increase since 2016, when the library filled a new position, a youth services coordinator, who organizes special events for kids at the library.
One such event is the launch of ESPL’s summer reading program June 7, at the Nassawadox library, Burton announced.
One new addition to more than 500 programs offered by the library is 1000 Things Before Kindergarten, which encourages families of preschoolers to explore books, museums, and parks, and more.
More than 100 volunteers help implement these programs at the library’s four locations.
The success of the programs prompted an increase in donations, Burton said. According to a graph she shared with supervisors, annual donations totaled more than $30,000 in 2019, approximately $5,000 more than the total for 2018.
The donations go directly to the library to purchase books and other items, not to the capital improvement fund, Burton clarified.
The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded ESPL a $500,000 challenge grant for library equipment in addition to a $6,000 preservation assistance grant for a consultant who will assess the library’s collections.
“It gets the Eastern Shore’s history on the national front,” Burton said.
“We will be partnering with the organizations around the nation, and this brings great visibility to our collections, opens up new doors to funding, and will actually increase the capacity of all the museums on the Shore to enable us to bring training and other resources here.”
She noted that all four libraries will be closed Feb. 19 and 20 for the implementation of a new online catalog dubbed ShoreCat, she said. A launch event will be held Feb. 21.
Burton submitted a request for Northampton to contribute about $193,000, or 25% of the library’s annual operating costs. Accomack will pay the remaining 75%, according to a regional agreement.
Jim Schaeffer, president of Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC), said “It’s a great day” to be at the campus, even though “it’s no secret that we’ve been having our problems.”
ESCC’s new, 47,000-square-foot building is open, a “$22 million operation,” and students and faculty are “over the moon,” Schaeffer said.
The community college added new programs of study, including applied sciences and technology, which will prepare students to enter the workforce in trades within two years. The credits can also be applied to a four-year degree.
ESCC’s new medical scribe program was so immediately popular that 24 students applied for its 20 slots, Schaeffer said.
“Our enrollment is up double digits … almost 18%,” he added.
ESCC stopped automatically dropping students for nonpayment. Instead, “we identified them, and we had 88 students. That was on a Monday. By Wednesday, we had 36. By Friday, we had seven.”
The community college also has raised money and obtained grants totaling an additional $200,000 in scholarships to be offered to students this fall, Schaeffer said.
ESCC is requesting about $25,000 in funding from Northampton County in FY 2021.
Part 2 of this story will appear in next week’s Eastern Shore Post.