Last night I went for a visit to the public library. I’d like to say that it was merely to check-out books, but it wasn’t. I was worried for my library system.
Hall County is facing massive budget cuts and we all know where that ends up: cuts to the library. I’ve noticed increased furlough days and decreased numbers on the “new books” shelf, but I had no idea how grim things stood.
Last week the Board of Commissioners met to discuss proposed cuts and last night the library board met to proactively discuss cuts. I was late to the library board meeting and elected to not go in. Instead I talked to a staff member. She informed me that the invited public didn’t show to the library board meeting. Later she informed me that the public did show up to offer moral support in the form of TWO PEOPLE. TWO PEOPLE.
I stuck around to find out the result of the meeting: two branches are closing, two other branches have severely reduced hours, and the remaining two branches will be closed on Sunday. The entire part-time staff is being let go (21 people) and four full-time employees will be jobless in July.
The atmosphere last night at the Gainesville branch was somber. Employees checked summer reading program logs, patrons were assisted at the computers, a librarian tidied the shelves and tables, a teen sat in a chair reading Artemis Fowl, two boys with skateboards were on Facebook, an employee set up a material hold for mother, someone walked in just to use the restroom facilities… in other words, the library marched on. I can image the employees must be saddened and scared and probably a bit angry, but nonetheless they kept working.
I checked out a nice, thick stack of books. I found a book on surviving middle school for Hope. Both children are signed up for the summer reading program. Signs about upcoming closures are posted right along with signs advertising a library magic show for children. I noticed that the empty new book shelf has now been changed to a “staff picks” shelf and is filled with books old and new. They’ve also pulled out the graphic novels from the general collection to make a graphic novel section…. The dedicated library staff is still working to improve, to reach, to help and I am completely and totally thankful for all their hard work. I’m thankful and proud of the grace and dignity the Hall County Library System has exercised in the face of such negativity.
Now, how do we keep our libraries open? Statistics. Yup. Numbers count and they count a great deal. I know so many people who talk about limiting check-outs or not going to the library because they may check out “too many books.” Hogwash. Check-out as much as you can. Go as often as possible. Place holds. Log-in. Show-up. WORK THE SYSTEM. It comes to this: hours, staff, and the number of computers/programs/book titles all come down to the numbers. Think outside of yourself: you may have an IPad/Kindle/Nook/whatever… but what about the out of work dad searching for jobs online and resume writing books (Sam was there once), or the kids who need a place to study, or the English major with no money for books (me!), or the elderly or the poor or the fact that a library is a central community gathering spot…. the Library is a place and a very important place and no amount of Googlization can change that.
I truly hope that that there will be no further cuts (the Hall County Library system is now operating on 60% of the budget from three years ago) and my pie-in-the-sky dream is that this will turn around and libraries will reopen. Even as a paraprofessional at an academic library I can say that I don’t think I appreciated my public library system until I realized that it could all go away.
Information is empowerment. An informed public is quite a strong force and having an accessible library is powerful: where else can you find KNOWLEDGE, COMMUNITY, AND EQUALITY for all ages, nationalities, abilities, races…. you get the idea. Libraries are as American as it gets and a protected library is most certainly protected freedom.