Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Opinions

February 20, 2014

Guest editorial: February 19, 2014

AMERICUS — A response from Anne M. Isbell, director of Lake Blackshear Regional Library

It was quite a surprise for me to read the comments made at the Americus City Council meeting on Feb.10.

The statement was made that the library has “been consistently funded” and that “it’s their time to take the cut and rotate.” I am not sure where that information came from. The Lake Blackshear Regional Library receives funding from eight agencies in four counties. Since 2008, the funding agencies in Dooly and Schley County have never cut their library funding. The Crisp County funding agency cut their library funding once. Even the Sumter County Board of Commissioners cut library funding twice (but both times the Sumter County BOC cut all entities across the board).

The City of Americus has cut the library every year since 2008. In 2008, the library received $113,562.19 from the city of Americus. This year the city is funding the library at $66,193. (The actual amount they are funding us is $50,000 for calendar year 2014. The library runs on a fiscal year and that accounts for the difference on our books.) Only the City of Americus continues to cut us to the point where the Americus library will have to seriously cut back on personnel and hours.

In order for the library system to be eligible to receive state aid, the State Library expects local funding agencies to maintain or increase their funding from year to year. It is true that the State Library may grant a waiver if a local funding agency was forced to cut all their entities by the same percentage. But that is not true in the case of the City of Americus and therefore, yes, the cut to the Americus library by the City of Americus could potentially endanger the $420,000 the library system receives from the State — $420,000 that supports FOUR counties, not just the City of Americus and Sumter County.

And while the city administration very kindly offered to write a letter on our behalf to the State Library, that request to waive the maintenance of effort clause must come from the Regional Library Board. The State Library also expects supporting evidence showing that the funding agency did not cut the library more than any other local entities — supporting evidence that I would like to see as soon as possible.

I have heard someone say that the library has too many staff members. The library currently employs one full time and six part time local employees, which is the same number of employees that run our second largest library, the Cordele-Crisp Carnegie Library. In Americus, to combat our funding cuts, as full time employees have retired, we have replaced them with part time employees.  In addition, library employees are working harder, yet have not had a raise since January of 2009.

The library in Americus is the regional headquarters for the Lake Blackshear Regional Library system and houses all of the regional employees. Those employees would include the administrative staff, the regional children’s coordinator, the outreach coordinator, the cataloging staff, and the staff members that work in our shipping department receiving and sending out library books to other libraries all over the state of Georgia. Our citizens benefit from having staff members housed in Americus who serve the entire library region. Regional staff members are either paid directly by the state or are paid out of local funds based on population percentages — regional funds that come from all four counties. The three librarians are paid directly by the state and their positions are in jeopardy if state funding is lost.

With the most recent cut to the library by the city, we will be forced to lay off two to three part time people and possibly close the library on evenings and/or Saturdays. We simply do not have the local staff to manage a 24,000 square foot building which had 90,220 visitors and circulated 68,891 items last year. And the seven (7) full time and (3) part time staff members who are paid with regional funds cannot fill in because they have obligations to the rest of the region whose funding agencies have maintained or increased their levels of funding over the same six year period.

Mayor Blount also mentioned the fact that there are other library alternatives. And, indeed there are, Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College both have libraries. However, they are not designed or funded for use by community users. Those libraries are specifically funded by the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia Education and are designed to serve their students and staff. Only the public library is designed to serve the needs of the general public.

And just a reminder of what our citizens can find at their local public library:   

Adult Literacy Programming, Books, Books on CD, Books on Tape, Bookmobile services, Copiers (B&W and color), DVDs, eBooks (Free), Faxing, Free computer classes for Adults, Free Internet and Wi-Fi access, GALILEO (online databases), Genealogy Resources, Laminating, Local History Resources, Meeting Room, Naturalization Classes, Newspapers and Magazines (including back issues of local newspapers), One-on-One help with technology, Preloaded MP3 players, Tax forms, Vacation Reading Program, Videos, and Weekly Story Times for Children.

 

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