Carrboro’s library will soon become a lot bigger


By Fraser Sherman

By the end of summer, Carrboro expects a public library not tucked away inside McDougle Middle School.

Instead of 3,200 books and other items, the new Orange County Southern Branch Library will have space for 40,000 books, Collection Development Librarian Maureen Socha said in an email interview.

“We have a lot of room to fill,” Socha said. I am looking for a collection that has a mix of old (classics and past bestsellers) and new (past five years) in fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and children’s (popular characters); community interests, diverse titles, and award winners.”

Socha said she’s going over spreadsheets for title information and circulation statistics to help figure out what Carrboro patrons will want. For instance, as DVD and audiobook use has dropped since the pandemic, she anticipates a small DVD collection and may experiment with not having audiobooks.

Whatever the selection, the shelves won’t be full on opening day because books cost money. “The pandemic increased the pricing of everything,” Socha said. “building materials, cost of shelving and furniture, books, etc.”

The 203 Project

Carrboro has been working since 2016 to bring an Orange County Library branch to the parking lot at 203 S. Greensboro Street. That took lots of discussions between county and town, plus winning approval from all the relevant review boards. Carrboro broke ground on the “203 Project” in 2022.

While the wish for a library was the seed that started it, the 203 Project has grown beyond bookshelves. When open — at press time, anticipated by summer’s end — it will also be home to the Orange County Skills Development Center; Carrboro Recreation, Parks and Cultural Resources Department; WCOM radio; and the Virtual Justice Center.

The project will have added spaces available for live performances and other uses. Nerys Levy of the Friends of the Southern Branch Library told The Local Reporter in January that one of those uses will be a seed library for locals to check out seeds and grow their own food at home.

Carrboro has been posting regular updates about the project on its website. The most recent announcements say the exterior brick and roofing work are nearly complete. Work on mechanical, electrical, plumbing and sprinkler systems is ongoing. Crews will begin installing lighting fixtures soon.

Carrboro’s Library Dreams

Back in the 1940s, Carrboro Public Library operated out of the Civic Club Building on Bim Street. In 1988, the city’s leadership began pushing for a standalone library building. Instead, the library collection moved to McDougle Middle School in 1995. That proved an imperfect choice as it was only open during school hours.

After budget cuts imposed by the 2008 recession, Orange County considered closing the McDougle branch but decided instead to authorize a free-standing library in Carrboro. The McDougle branch stayed open until the pandemic. The collection is now in storage, awaiting a move to the Southern Branch.

Several years of debate, negotiation, and searching for the right site followed before everyone agreed that the 203 Project was the answer. Even then, the debate continued. In 2020, Town Council Member Steve Slade objected that including a parking deck in the project worked against Carrboro’s commitment to environmental justice and fighting global warming (the construction does include photovoltaic panels in the green roof; glass in the north windows that tint automatically as sunlight increases; and EV charging stations).

Launching a Library Branch

Socha said the initial materials available for checkout will be a mix of books from the middle school branch, books in storage, and donations from the public. “Our patrons donate newer books in great condition, which I usually use to replace items in the main collection, but in this case, I will be using them for the branch.”

Southern Branch patrons will have access to the same digital services as the rest of the county, such as the Hoopla ebook lending system. Carrboro residents can also use Orange County’s new DELIVEReads service for home delivery to anyone homebound due to age, health, childcare or other reasons.

Socha said the 1,300 books in Carrboro’s Cybrary, a small branch in the Carrboro Century Center, will transfer over to the new branch. Orange County Library Director Erin Sapienza told The Local Reporter the Cybrary ”was originally designed to complement another small branch in Carrboro. The Cybrary was opened primarily to provide computer access and the name ‘Cybrary’ was trendy at the time and, indeed, derived from cyber-library.”

In addition to transfers and donations, Socha has $15,000 to buy new items for the Southern Branch. Once the new fiscal year opens July 1, she says she will have more money both for the branch and for the main library in Hillsborough. As Orange County is in the middle of its budget process, Socha said, she doesn’t know yet how much money that will be. Sapienza likewise said she doesn’t yet know how large a Southern Branch staff she can afford.

Socha said that although it was her first time building a collection for a new branch, it had been easier because of her coworkers. “I can’t stress enough that this whole process is a team effort and I work with a great team of people.  I also work with an administrative team that trusts me to make the right buying decisions and supports me.”

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.
This reporter can be reached at

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