On average, about 1,500 people sign up to use computers at the Havelock-Craven County Public Library each month.
Some are simply surfing the Internet, but others are filing out job applications, taking online tests or studying for school.
Of the 12 computers that access the Internet, only seven work.
La Shanna Ayers, of Havelock, knows all about it. She has a computer at home but it doesn’t have Internet access, so she frequently comes to the library to get online to apply for jobs.
"It just goes real slow pulling up Microsoft Word and trying to get on the Internet," Ayers said.
John McCollum, of Havelock, came to the library to use a computer to apply for a draft specialist job.
"There have been times when I think it is a bit slow," he said.
Librarian Margie Garrison sees it all the time.
"They don’t work very well. They’re dark. They’re not good quality, but they’re all we have," Garrison said of the computers.
The failing computers and the effort to get new ones have put Havelock and Craven County officials at odds over how to pay for them. Library funding has traditionally been a point of contention through the years between the two boards of commissioners. Havelock officials believe the library to be a county entity that happens to be located in the city, with some feeling the city is bearing the brunt of the financial burden to support it with little help from the county.
The city contributed $47,076 to the library budget for 2013-14, with the county contributing $89,263, in line with what has become a traditional funding formula with the city contributing about 35 percent and the county contributing about 65 percent.
On top of the normal library budget, Garrison put in a special request for $10,000 for new computers and software. Havelock, going back to the traditional funding formula, committed $4,000, but Craven County offered no extra money for the purchase of new computers.
Scott Dacey, chairman of the Craven County Board of Commissioners, said the Havelock library was offered used 2012 computers from the county that would have worked just fine for its needs, saying other departments in Craven County were using similar computers.
Garrison disputes that, saying she was not aware of any such offer of used computers being made to the Havelock library.
Garrison said what the library currently has is a mix of computers, almost all of which are second-hand units from various sources, that use different software. Some of the models go back to 1999, which is an eternity in the computer industry.
She said one of the two computers that the library uses as a card catalogue to look up books has died.
"I have three that were given to me by the college when they got rid of them. I have a couple that were given to me by a doctor’s office when they got rid of them. So we try to make do with them because all of my others had died," Garrison said. "The county has never outright bought computers for us. They come out of our budget, but mostly they have come from grants that we were able to get from the Gates Foundation. They have bought computers for us twice, but they are really not doing that anymore."
Garrison thanked the city for its efforts.
"The city has been so incredible in helping me come up with a solution," she said. "I feel that they really feel compassion for their citizens."
Garrison said students have complained about losing work when the failing computers freeze.
"They’ll be in the middle of a test and it just freezes. They lose what they’ve started. That’s happened so many times it just makes us sick," Garrison said. "Our software is old and not only do the college students and the high school students need Office 2010 in order to complete their assignments, a lot of your websites need updated software in order to access even the job sites or test sites."
Something library user James Schrum knows all too well.
"I was trying to look up some stuff on the Internet and it just couldn’t process it fast enough," he said. "(Computers) Seven and Eight kind of takes its time and freezes up on you."
Garrison said it is discouraging to see young people attempt to make an online job application only to have the computer quit on them near the end of the application.
"My staff and I have worked very hard to keep these computers up and running, but we are not computer experts," she said. "I really don’t have the money to have them looked at by experts. My husband has come in. We have other members of the community come in to try to keep our computers running. I really need new computers."
Garrison said that the library’s budget is about $190,000 and every bit of it is spent each year, leaving nothing extra for the purchase of computers.
"We’re barely eking by," she said.
Garrison said she is trying to find the best deal available to spend the $4,000 from Havelock for as many computers as possible.
"I’m very grateful for what the city has done," Garrison said.