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Posted: March 8, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Libraries feel the squeeze

More people flock to libraries in record numbers just as budgets and services are cut

Michelle Kim/

A reader browses the shelves at the Covington branch of the Newton County Library System.

Libraries have been more than just a place to borrow books for quite some time. For many in the community, the library fills a role that other institutions no longer provide: educational resources and programs for children, free books, DVDs, and CDs for entertainment, a place for meetings and exams, and a place to study.

 

But lately, libraries all across the country are caught in a bind as record numbers of people need their services at a time when libraries face steep cuts in state and local funding.

 

It’s a dilemma that Newton County Library System Director Greg Heid is all too familiar with. Heid recently submitted the NCLS’s plans to cut 20 percent of their funding received from the county, despite a 40 percent jump in attendance.

“People have the tendency to use libraries more during downturns,” Heid said, who has endured other economic downturns during his library career. “It’s really a conundrum, because government agencies don’t have the funds to increase services.”    

 

The Newton County Library System, which is part of the PINES library system, reported a 40 percent increase from this time last year in the number of people coming in and an 11 percent spike in the number of checked out items. Normally, the volume of checked-out items only grows by about two percent.

 

The W.H. Stanton Memorial Library in Social Circle, which is part of the Uncle Remus library system, has also seen a sharp spike in circulation of about 20 percent, from 63,918 items in 2007-2008 to 82,819 items projected for the 2008-2009 year.

 

People are often turning to libraries, during these times, to help find jobs.

 

“For many people, the library is their lifeline for job searching and job applications,” said Heid. He pointed out many people in the county still don’t have computer or internet access at home. Companies will often advise job applicants to apply online from the Labor Department office or the library,” Heid said.

 

 “A lot of times people when people don’t have a job and want to get out of the house, they’ll go to free places. The library is a nice place to come as their second living room, so to speak.”

 

Stanton Memorial Library Manager Janet King echoed this sentiment. “We’re seeing a lot of use, especially with unemployment,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of internet use here.”

 

Despite this jump in demand for services, the NCLS recently had to cut $226,700, or 20 percent of their funding received from the county. That equals about 13 percent of their budget overall, since they also receive funding from the state, which is likely to cut funding further as well.

 

To cut utility and payroll costs, the library will close all day Saturday and shorten hours during the week. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, the library will close at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the hours will shift to 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., instead of 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

 

The new hours are effective March 16.

 

“Some people asked, ‘Why not Monday?” Heid said. If the library were closed Mondays, it would need to have some staff members there to receive deliveries and call vendors, which meant the lights and heating/air conditioning would be turned on anyway, negating the utility savings. “It was better to choose a day that I didn’t have to have technical and administrative staff on.”

The fewest number of people come to the library on Saturday, reported Heid. The busiest day, on average, is Tuesday, followed by Thursday, then Monday.  

Personnel were affected as well, with seven jobs, a mix of full-time and part-time positions, eliminated. Two of those positions were filled, but the other five had been left vacant until the budget was sorted out.

 

Fees will increase slightly for things like copies (20 cents instead of 15 cents) and the cost of using a meeting room ($50 instead of $25), are increasing slightly as well, and the library is going to start charging for proctoring exams.

 

The funding for the Porter Memorial Branch Library, to be built on Ga. Highway 212, is still in place, since it’s drawing from capital funds and won’t need operational funds until Fiscal Year 2011.

 

“Like all departments and allocations of Newton County, we’re all in this boat together and we’re doing what we can in spreading the county deficit out so we can balance our budget,” said Heid.

 

“Hopefully these hours and cutbacks will be temporary,” said Heid. “I’m hopeful.”

 
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