Gwinnett County Library users will see fewer best sellers, large-print editions, periodicals and new children’s books this year if a proposed $1 million cut to the library budget is approved by county commissioners Thursday.
In a letter to the county commission, dated Dec. 10, library board chairman Phillip Saxton wrote that the cut would have “irrevocable long-term consequences for the community.” It would leave the library system with a materials budget of $2.3 million — down 30 percent from 2012 and, according to Saxton, at a level last seen in 2001 when the county had 500,000 residents and 10 library branches.
Today, there are 15 branches and more than 800,000 residents, with about 310,500 people holding library cards.
“Gwinnett citizens expect more than an average or minimal delivery standard for their libraries and their schools,” the letter says. “Local economic growth depends on a literate, well-educated population. The public library fulfills the role of promoting lifelong literacy in the community.”
Commission chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the cut is necessary because county property values are projected to decline by 2 percent this year, which equates to a $3.2 million loss in the county’s general fund, from which the library system is funded. Nash has recommended that the entire cut be taken from the library’s materials budget, which pays for the books, periodicals, compact discs and other items available to be used or checked out.
Nash said officials studied budgets in other counties, including Cobb County’s $1.3 million annual budget for library materials, before recommending the cut.
“It’s one of those things I felt like … we could afford to make a reduction there without crippling services for a short term situation until we hopefully see a stabilization of tax” revenue, Nash said. “Everyone has had reductions in previous years. There just are not ways to balance the budget without actually hitting services in a hard way.
“We’re definitely hitting on muscle now.”
Cobb library director Helen Poyer said her county’s budget also has been cut since 2009, and that her staff has tried to offset those by providing more electronic books.
But that’s one of the items that could be cut in Gwinnett. Liz Forster, deputy director for the Gwinnett County Library, said the cut could also mean longer waits for popular titles and school reading lists; decreased circulation time for materials; and slower growth in the library’s colleciton of digital books, audio and video.
Gwinnett library board member Dick Goodman said the proposed cut would be “painful” for library users. But he said he agrees with Nash’s recommendation that it be taken out of materials, as opposed to reducing branch hours. Since 2008, individual library branches have gone from being open 71 hours to 44 hours per week.
“It’s great to have the newest books, but that doesn’t do any good if the doors are locked,” Goodman said.
Saxton, whose term on the board expired with the new year, said comparisons to other county library systems are unfair because Gwinnett has the busiest libraries in the state.
“It hits every person across the board … and the library will be less valuable to citizens than it was before,” Saxton said.
Gwinnett County Library funding:
2010: $18.9 million
2011: $17.5 million
2012: $16.1 million
2013: $15.1 million *
Source: Gwinnett County Library