CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Riverside High School's library houses all the standard amenities for school-based learning: a hefty collection of young adult fiction, a dozen computers - somewhere in storage there are 30 copies of "The Catcher in the Rye" for classroom use.
But at this high school library red cardboard hearts are taped to the walls bearing Valentine's Day messages from small children - Lauren loves "books to read" and Ben loves "vedeos" and the "compuder." And there are programs geared to adults and seniors, like a weekend genealogy workshop.
That's because this library, tucked into the side of Riverside High, is also a full-service branch of Kanawha County Public Libraries. In addition to being the school library, it doubles as the community library for Belle and its neighboring communities.
It's been that way since the school opened in 1999, and Cathy Pierce, the branch's manager, said the arrangement, though odd on the surface, has always worked nicely. The school provides the amenities, the library system puts up the materials and the bulk of the staff, and the result is a bigger, better library for students and the public alike. In January, 7,151 people visited Riverside's library, checking out 4,680 materials.
"The people who come here, the general public, are used to it," Pierce said. "They will sit next a student at a computer in the middle of a class if one is here."
The strangeness of the arrangement is underscored, though, by a recent state Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the 1957 outlining the parameters of the relationship between the county school board and the public library system. The court ruled that the part of the law that forced the Kanawha County school board to help fund the library system through its property tax is unconstitutional - leaving the library scrambling to come up with that money, nearly 40 percent of its operating budget.
But while that ruling freed the school board from one element of its generations-old relationship with Kanawha County Libraries, the two public entities are still intertwined in a heap of other ways. It remains to be seen whether and how that relationship will change moving forward.
Alan Engelbert, director of the library system, said the library and school board have "enjoyed a long and close relationship."
When the library was first established, in 1913, tax support came entirely from the Charleston Independent School District, the precursor to today's school system.
The recently contested 1957 law was created when the school board and library system approached the Legislature together, Engelbert said, looking for a more stable source of funding for the library. The new law required the County Commission and the city of Charleston to put up some funds as well - the library has since been funded by all three.
But even as the school system was relieved of the bulk of its obligation to the library system, it retained some control over the library, and the relationship between the two remained close. The school board is still the designated "fiscal agent" for the library system - all library employees are classified as Department of Education employees for payroll purposes, among other things - and the library system's board of directors is appointed by the school board.