When I got up last Wednesday morning and logged onto the Times’ website, I’d planned on skimming through the election results and then heading off to work. Then I saw the headline: “Library system cuts hours, closes on weekends.”
The reasons for these drastic cuts were outlined by director Adrian Mixson on the system’s Facebook page and in the Times article: “Your library is funded from three sources of revenue. While county government provides 80 percent most fiscal years, state government provides 15 percent, fines, fees, and the rest gifts. ... In addition, the increased cost of health insurance has drained our reserves. In spite of these revenue challenges, this year the County commission has constructed a new branch that will increase services in North Hall.
To compensate for this increased operating expense, we will be providing fewer days and hours of service. We will be going to a five day schedule at all facilities. We will not be opened weekends and only two nights per week.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I also felt more than a little guilty. In the past few years, the library’s budget has been slashed, hours have been cut and branches closed.
Especially sad and disturbing was the closing of East Hall’s special-needs library. It served the handicapped and disabled of the area, offering adaptive toys and books for the visually impaired. It’s now housed in a conference room at the main branch. Like every other department there, they’ve struggled to do more with less.
What was I doing while all this was going on? I don’t even know. I just know I wasn’t at public meetings of the Hall County Board of Commissioners raising holy hell. And for that, I will be eternally sorry and ashamed.
Tomorrow is the last time the library will hold Saturday hours.
So this Saturday, let’s all go to the library. That’s it. There’s no meeting, no rally. Just people showing support for an institution that we’ve always assumed would be there for us when we needed it. It’s the people of our area doing one of the things they do best: rallying to the side of a dear friend in distress. Let’s fill the main branch on Academy Street tomorrow, all day long.
Wear red so we’ll recognize each other.
This isn’t a protest. It’s a showing of support and gratitude.
If a book has ever changed your life, visit the library Saturday. If you ever watched the wonder on your child’s face as they listened to the gifted storytellers there, visit the library Saturday. If you dream of great things for that child’s future, visit the library Saturday.
While you’re there, sign up to join Friends of the Library. It needs all the friends it can get.
And then, let’s just read. Books. Newspapers. Magazines. Let’s sit on the floor with our kids and help them page through picture books about ancient Egypt and horses and dinosaurs and the myriad other topics that fascinate them. Help them learn things you alone can’t teach them. Parents and libraries have always had a very special partnership. Saturday would be a good day to stop in and thank them for that.
This isn’t a wake. It’s a wake-up call. As individuals and as a community we must become crystal clear about the things we value. And then fight to keep them.
I was in the library’s main branch earlier this week. It was just before lunch and the place was hopping. Every computer terminal was full. People, both young and old, sat reading at tables and on couches. Kids and their parents filled the downstairs children’s area. Teenagers leaned intently over their laptops.
This is a vital, vibrant crossroads of our community. It’s a resource that must be treasured, nurtured and preserved.
There are no easy answers. Given current funding, if the library were to remain open Saturdays, the only alternative would be to close on another day of the week. For tomorrow, let’s just show up and revel in the last leisurely Saturday we’ll have at the library in the foreseeable future.
Then, please people, let’s all get to work and fix this mess. J.A. Langford said: “The only true equalizers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth which will not decay is knowledge; the only jewel which you can carry beyond the grave is wisdom.”
See you Saturday.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.