For decades Carol Durusau has been a staple at the children's desk of the Newton County Library on Floyd Street. It was not unusual to see her dressed up, dancing with children, acting out the stories in the books and speaking with children and parents about which book would fit perfectly with each child. But since the spring, her desk has been empty - in fact, it has been removed. And although Durusau has not been cut, the position of a full-time children's librarian has been, leaving many parents upset and concerned about the future of the library. But hers is not the only position that has seen changes.
On Jan. 1, the Newton County Library System was forced to lay off several employees due to declining revenues and increasing costs. The Covington branch lost eight of its 27 employees, the Porter Memorial Branch lost four of its 11. Another 16 had their salaries cut. Those cuts were scheduled to save $200,000 for the remainder of the 2012 Fiscal Year (which ended June 30) and a total of $400,000 over a full year.
The library's budget was reduced to $1.58 million. Library officials originally asked for a $2.35 million budget because the system had the added cost of operating the Porter Memorial Branch, on Ga. Highway 212 for a full fiscal year; however, both state and local funding fell this year. In all, the library has seen a 57 percent reduction in staffing since this time last year.
"The cuts were painful for everyone but necessary to maintain library service to the residents of Newton County," Library Director Lace Keaton said in a previous story to The News. "We are hopeful that when our budget recovers as the economy becomes more stable, we can restore some of these positions."
The library system does not have any money available this year to purchase new books or materials, and library board Chairwoman Lois Upham previously said the library was not even renewing subscriptions of existing materials.
Upham said Keaton was being very sensitive to the staff's needs and desires while making the most efficient cuts possible.
"We want people to be aware that there are consequences when the libraries don't get sufficient funding, unhappy things," Upham said. "But we'll continue to do our best."
While library officials pledged to do their best, the strain is showing, and not just with the position of children's librarian.
In the children's portion of the library, there are shelves that have books just shoved on them, but not in any sort of order because they have no one to sort and re-shelve the books. Children and parents coming in searching for a book might not be able to find what they were looking for, even if they searched in the right place. Many books in the adult section are also sitting on carts, waiting to be re-shelved and checked out.
"We have not cut the children's librarian position at all," said Keenan. "We have fewer staff, so everyone has additional responsibilities, including me," she said, adding that the library also no longer has a person responsible solely for reference either since the cuts. "We all take on additional tasks and work as a team," she said.
She also said that the children's programs are still provided on a regular basis, and while they may have decreased quantity, they have not in quality.
The library has lost a lot of funding through the county and state and a lot of library cuts because of it. I think that people don't realize what's happening behind the numbers," said one of the library's regular patrons Tamela Mills. "They need volunteer help, they need money...we don't see what's happening in our community until it's too late... Families are noticing that they cannot find the resources that some families need. It's no fault of the staff - it's just not there."
A letter released by Mills, and several other concerned parents, reads: "The reference librarian is gone and the children's library staff has disappeared from the room. Lines to speak to a staff person at the front desk are ridiculously long and even young kids are waiting in line for answers, but no one is able to lead them to the resource they seek... I am seeing what looks less like a stop-gas measure and more like a decidedly different direction in our library's future. Making sure permanent changes will likely had a far-reaching effect on our community's priorities - allowing jails to win over education."
Newton County Magistrate Court Judge Kim Degonia is also concerned about the state of the library.
"The children's librarian - with all of her wisdom and knowledge - has been assigned to pass out library cards while the children's library is a collection of half empty shelves of misfiled books; and row upon row of unshelved books, DVDs and audio books; all of which wait weeks to reach the appropriate place on the shelf. Our library staff is wonderful. Each one of them is anxious to help...but there is no longer a children's librarian or an organized children's library to be a resource to our community."
Keaton acknowledged both the cuts and the way they have affected the library and those who work there and use the services provided. She said that with a high volume of usage at the library they have less sign to shelve the books and longer wait times. She said that summer reading is a big time for the library and usually busier and that they are currently working on hiring staff to replace those that left months ago due to retirements and resignations, which will help with the problem. She stressed that they were not adding employees as much as reallocating the money they currently have for vacant positions.
"We had to do such a drastic cut," Keaton said. "We didn't expect it and the unfortunate part is when you loose 57 percent of your staff, the ability to provide service at the same level is not possible. But we are committed to providing the best level of service that we can or everyone. There are no plans to cut children's services at all. We have just had to re-organize and re-evaluate what we do because of our budget."
Keaton said the library always welcome volunteers of all ages, and those interested should merely contact the library. She also said that donations were always welcome at the library.