Officials from the Petal Board of Alderman, Hattiesburg City Council and the Forrest County Board of Supervisors are mulling over budget requests from the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County, including specific asks for the Petal and Hattiesburg branches.
Sean Farrell, director of the library system, recently visited Petal aldermen to ask for a budget of $95,126 for the Petal branch, a substantial increase from the current budget of $55,000. Farrell also is requesting an $878,424 budget from Forrest County – up from the current budget of $861,200 – and $950,742 from Hattiesburg, up from the current budget of $932,100.
“Four years ago, Petal cut us by 43 percent,” Farrell said. “They have restored a tiny bit of that, but we’re at $55,000, where we were at (almost) $88,000 in Fiscal Year 2018.
“What we’re requesting (from Petal) for the Fiscal Year that begins October 1st is $95,000 – that’s a dramatic increase, but it is 8 percent over what we got in Fiscal Year 2018. We’re asking Hattiesburg and Forrest County, their requests are also 8 percent over what they gave us in Fiscal Year 2018, so their raises are a little bit smaller for this year, but overall it’s the same 8 percent since Fiscal Year 2018. The big revenue increase we’re asking for is Petal, because we’re trying to get to where they were before.”
Because the library system rotates employees between the two branches, there is not a designated staff for Petal and one for Hattiesburg. Instead, Farrell considers it a “library” staff altogether.
“We don’t subscribe to Hoopla, which is our really popular e-book service, for Hattiesburg and for Petal; we subscribe to Hoopla that people in Hattiesburg and Petal can use both,” he said. “So obviously, those institutions primarily support both libraries – Forrest County supports both – so technically, there’s one budget request for the whole system.”
As part of the budget, Farrell is asking for a raise in salary for employees in which every full-time employee would get a $1,200 annual raise, while every half-time individual would get a $600 annual raise. That salary increase does not include Farrell as the director of the library system.
“That’s fair, because I’m well-compensated and I am very thankful,” Farrell said. “Everyone other than the director position is hopefully getting a $1,200 or $600 raise.
“That amounts to 4 percent of the total salaries that are going up. So some people are making more than 4 percent, and some people will get a little bit less than 4 percent, in terms of a raise.”
Over the past year, 2,437 guests checked out 17,636 items – including books, DVDs and magazines – from the Petal Library. That figure represents a dollar amount of $369,660, had those items been purchased in a retail setting.
So far this year, circulation at that branch is up by 73 percent, and Farrell expects that number to rise even more.
“Those people checked out those physical objects last fiscal year – that’s hard copy items,” he said. “This year, our hard copy items so far are up 73 percent … just in Petal.
“(For that monetary figure), we said, if you took a fair market value of kids’ books, adults’ books, and DVDs – and if you went out and purchased those, rather than checked them out free at the library – you would pay (more than) $369,000 for those items. My point was, Petal is contributing about $55,000, and the cost of the items is $369,000.”
Petal library users also have access to more than 200,000 eBooks, eAudio recordings and downloadable movies, TV shows and digital magazines. In March, the Petal branch returned to a full in-person program after halting operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and since that time, 859 children have attended weekly story time and summer reading programs.
In addition, an undetermined number of students – as well as adults – have used the library’s computers for Internet access, including free printing for students.
For the future, Farrell expects the Petal branch to once again open on Wednesdays, which will restore the library to six operating days per week. There’s also an expected 25 percent increase in the WiFi bandwidth, computer classes, and free first-run movies at the library.
“One thing that’s important to note is that (dollar amount) is before the first eBook is downloaded – that’s just physical items checked out,” Farrell said. “That’s before the first computer is used, that’s before the first kid comes to story time, that’s before the first time someone comes to one of our movies that we show for free.
“So that money … that figure is just physical items; that is not any of our services.”
At the Hattiesburg branch, 171,172 physical items were checked out during the last fiscal year, representing a value of approximately $3.6 million. The circulation at that library is up more than 8 percent so far this year.
System-wide, 188,808 physical items were checked out at the libraries, representing a value of approximately $3.9 million. Circulation over the library system is up 14 percent so far this fiscal year.