Safe doesn't necessarily mean secure

Maranda McKenzie, 9, left, and Emily Varnadore, 9, look at library books at the York County Library in Rock Hill on Thursday.
Maranda McKenzie, 9, left, and Emily Varnadore, 9, look at library books at the York County Library in Rock Hill on Thursday.

Public libraries and public schools don't always mix.

That's the message Colleen Carney, director of the York County Library, is sending to county officials who are loosely discussing a downtown high school that could share the Rock Hill branch of the county's public library.

"We can't be open to the general public and still provide the same security as a typical high school," Carney said. "There are different security measures that you don't have in a library."

The issue surfaced last month when York County Council discussed future plans for the downtown library. School and county officials informally have discussed sharing facilities if the school district ever decided to build a magnet high school downtown. But Carney, who admits all talks are strictly preliminary, is skeptical of the logistics.

Because the York County Library is funded with public grants and tax dollars, it must be accessible to all people. Carney said by allowing all residents to use the building, it would be hard to maintain the strict security followed at most high school campuses today, where visitors are required to sign in and often be escorted by staff.

Everyone -- moms with children, homeless people and the elderly -- is free to browse materials at the library, Carney said, unlike a high school where the controlled environment is constantly monitored by teachers.

Library is safe, director says

That doesn't mean the public library isn't a safe place, Carney said. In the past two years, there have been 16 criminal offenses committed at the library, according to Rock Hill police records. Most of those are minor incidents including bicycle thefts outside the building and some vandalism, records show.

Carney said she's open to sharing facilities with the school district but wants to be sure proper staff and security measures are considered.

"It's more of an issue for the schools to consider," she said. "There are just a lot of variables to look at."

Rock Hill school district Superintendent Lynn Moody agrees much discussion still is needed. She said talks of locating a magnet school downtown to relieve crowding at other schools are in very early stages.

"We've just had one brief conversation about where our next high school will be," Moody said.

She said school board members are weighing whether to eventually build downtown or on the city's north side. They also have to consider what programs are needed and where population trends are heading, she said.

Yet, Moody said she'd be willing to consider sharing other public facilities, such as the library, like the district has done with the Rock Hill Tennis Center at Sullivan Middle School.

"We're always open to that conversation to save taxpayers money," she said.

Shared libraries between county and school systems have been tried in other places in the country, said Quincy Pugh, president of the S.C. Library Association, but not in South Carolina.

He warned that operating a public library in conjunction with a school may create strains on staff and resources.

"Public libraries, especially those close to schools, have an overflow of kids after school," Pugh said. "We have to be careful that we don't become a babysitter."