People came dressed in red Saturday to the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System to support the libraries on the last day they plan to open on a weekend.
Starting Sept. 1, all Hall County libraries will be open Monday through Friday and closed weekends.
Library Director Adrian Mixson said the reason for the reduced hours was due to an already tight budget and addition of a new branch, North Hall Technology Center, which will open in October. In addition, the cost of state health insurance has risen.
“Last year we had closed two facilities and let go of 20 people. ... This year we’re stretched. We did this as part of the budget,” Mixson said.
Supporters showed up in their red shirts throughout the morning, checking out books and expressing their support to the staff.
“Libraries are a very significant part of the lifestyle of any community,” said Virginia Hale, one of the supporters and president of Friends of the Hall County Library System. “I think it’s such a shame. So many students use the libraries on Saturdays. Parents bring their kids to the library on Saturdays.”
Dorothy Shinafelt, executive director of the Gainesville-Hall County Alliance for Literacy, also showed up on Saturday dressed in red.
“As the executive director, it is my job that our community is aware of how important literacy is,” she said. “I think it’s critical for the residents of Hall County to have access to books.”
Shinafelt was concerned that the reduced hours would cut off access to the libraries for some families.
“We feel the greatest gift you can give a child is a parent who can read,” she said of the Alliance for Literacy.
“I came out today because I am sad that our hours of access to the library has been reduced,” said Bernice Cox, a former president of the Friends of Hall County Library and former library board of trustees member.
A retired public school librarian, Cox came to support the library and its staff.
“I really can’t imagine my life without a library,” she said.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners decide how much money is allocated to the library system each year. The library board then decides how to use that money.
“I am equally upset about the closings on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Billy Powell, District 2 Commissioner. “I think we need to have at least some coverage for one of the main branches, that being Gainesville of course, or Spout Springs for Saturday or Sunday.”
He said that every department in the Hall County government has had to suffer some budget cuts.
Supporters are invited to join the Friends of the Hall County Library System.
“It’s an volunteer organization that fundraises for library projects and advocates for library support,” Hale said.
She said the organization plans events to raise awareness and funds for the libraries such as the Murder Mystery Dinners held once a year and book sales that go on year-round. They also sponsor programs at the libraries for children and adults.
Membership is yearly and at a low cost that goes to benefit the libraries.
Mixson said the library board will meet again in September to take another look at the budget. If they find they have the money, they may be able to open some of the facilities half-time on the weekend.
However, he wants to make sure everyone in the county has the same access to the libraries.
“Everybody is treated the same,” he said. “Whatever we do, we want to provide equal access.”