Orange County

Love Chapel Hill’s library? Hate the parking? A solution is coming, and new programs

Grant money and new programs will improve parking and give people even more ways to enjoy their public library.

On average, 1,700 people visit the Chapel Hill Public Library every day, up from just over 1,000 a day in 2012. The library, which moved to its current home in 1994, has more than tripled in size since then. But it still can be difficult to find a parking spot, a seat or a table when the 64,000-square-foot library is busy.

With over 339,000 books and other items, the library reported an annual circulation of 1.5 million in 2017-18 and the highest per capita circulation in the state at 25.69 items per town resident.

A $99,600 federal grant through the state Library of North Carolina will give library patrons a new option next year for avoiding the traffic when picking up reserved books and other materials, or returning materials to the library. The money will pay to install a kiosk machine by June 2020 at University Place mall. It also will provide the money to buy a vehicle for transporting materials to and from the library.

The library averages about 470 requests each day to hold books and materials for pick up, systems manager David Green said. That number spikes in the summer, he noted.

The number of returns is even higher, with more than 3,000 books and materials returned each day, he said. Patrons at peak hours of the day often bring back more than 600 books and materials per hour, he added.

Freeing up parking

The kiosk will help the library reach more of the community and free up spaces in the library’s two parking lots.

The library has nearly 200 spaces, but at peak times up to 190 cars are coming into the driveway, Green said.

“Most days, our parking lots are at capacity, which is a barrier to access for library users from every demographic group,” Green said. “By creating a new location for what we call our ‘grab and go’ customers — people who come here to drop off and pick up items using our self-service options — we expect to free up as many as 60 parking spots per day.”

However, parking will continue to be a challenge, especially since the library also provides meeting rooms for community and town government events and programs. Library director Susan Brown said plans for more parking are already in progress.

The first phase of the parking project will involve restriping the upper parking lot to make it one way and adding six to eight marked spaces to the back side, where drivers already park haphazardly at peak times. That could start later this year, Brown said.

The parking lot will be extended in the second phase, adding up to 16 more parking spaces to the back side of the upper lot. The library sits on the 32-acre Pritchard Park, near Estes and Franklin streets.

“This work that we’ve been doing is not just expanding our parking,” Brown said. “It’s also for (bike, pedestrian and traffic) safety and flow.”

Local music online

Another $49,500 grant will create an online, open-source platform where local musicians can share their work to new audiences and library users can discover past and current local music.

The goal is a Chapel Hill-centric local music collection and music-focused events, special projects coordinator Molly Luby said.

“We have a really awesome local music scene with a long, vibrant history, and there’s a real growing gap in the way music is delivered to our ears,” Luby said. “Most music is digital, and most artists — especially small artists — are not putting out CDs and most people don’t buy CDs any more.”

Anyone will be able to stream music online, and library card holders also will be able to download the music. The library will pay a small licensing fee, which is how other programs around the country — also in cities with thriving local music scenes — operate, Brown said.

“We also want to respect the fact that these are working musicians and respect their work,” Luby added.

The library also will partner with UNC to curate and make available historical content, such as concert posters, oral histories and band biographies. A local concert series and other music-related events also are possible, she said.

The UNC partnership is another step toward keeping local history alive at the library. Local history also will be the subject of an upcoming podcast hosted by the library.

Local history podcast

The first season of “Re/Collecting Chapel Hill” will launch Sept. 9 with a focus on Chapel Hill’s monuments and markers. It’s part of a continuing look at telling local and untold stories “from the bottom up and the inside out,” library officials said in a news release.

Season one will have 14 episodes, ranging from 15 to 30 minutes, with new episodes released every two weeks. Luby will co-host the first season with Danita Mason-Hogans, a local historian and member of the Mayor’s Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force.

They will combine archived audio and fresh interviews to explore such history as Peace and Justice Plaza on East Franklin Street; the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on UNC’s campus; the B-1 Navy Band, the Journey of Reconciliation and state highway historical markers; Silent Sam; and the Chapel Hill Nine, the town’s first sit-in and civil rights.

“Community history is a fresh approach to the people, places, and events from our past,” Luby said. “It amplifies the experiences of those who lived through historical events, particularly those voices omitted from existing scholarship. This history is a living history, open to new information and revision.”

Subscribe to the podcast and listen online at

Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.