I am writing to express my dismay at the proposed budget cuts for the public library by the county and the Board of Education. As the former librarian for Effingham County, I have seen the growth of library use over the past 10 years, and for five of them I was directly involved in securing funds to operate the libraries.
For most of the past three decades, the libraries have been supported solely by the Board of Education, and I applaud them for this. It is only since the early 2000s that the county has added library funding to its budget. Throughout Georgia, the vast majority of public library service is county funded, and this should be the case here as well. Rather than eliminating library funding over the next three years, the county should be taking on the total responsibility for our library service. The Board of Education has done its part, and I fully understand their position in reluctantly having to cut funds.
Our county commission chairman’s opinion that libraries are expendable shows a complete ignorance of the importance of libraries to a community. With over 200,600 visits to our two libraries in FY 2009 (and the numbers are growing in FY10), the libraries have proven their value to our residents, if not to our commissioners. And lest the impression be that the only use for libraries is to do job searches and prepare resumes, think about all of the preschool programs, assistance to researchers, recreational reading opportunities, access to print and electronic resources for the intellectually curious and for those pesky homework assignments, summer and winter reading programs to keep youngsters up on their reading skills, resources for the many home-school families, computer access for the many who have no computer or lack the skill to use one, and so on.
The county spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on recreation. Their SPLOST wish list includes millions for recreational facilities, but not a dime for a new library to replace the overcrowded and aging Rincon Library. (Take a look at Chatham County’s pride and joy, the new branch library at Savannah Mall. Watch for the grand opening of Augusta-Richmond County’s beautiful new main library building. Both of them are multi-million dollar SPLOST projects.) There are many of us who do not participate in any of the county’s recreational activities, but do not deny their importance to this community. I daresay there are many who may not use the libraries but would not deny their importance as well. Many nationwide studies have borne this truth out, that the public library is the most respected service that a county provides, and that the library is considered to be a highly desirable asset for a community.
It is a quality of life thing. Effingham County prides itself as an attractive place to live. Our educational system is a strong drawing card for people seeking a good place to raise their children. Companies looking to relocate are concerned that their employees will have a good place to live. The public library is one of those assets that makes a community attractive. For Effingham County to decide to be one of the only counties in the state without a public library would be a disaster.