Cobb cuts library services as user numbers increase

“Time is ticking! You may want to check in the closet and under the bed for overdue library items you can return before fines go up,” the message said.

As part of the county’s budget balancing for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, Cobb's $12 million library budget was cut about 5 percent. In response, the system's 17 branches will soon open an hour later and close an hour earlier. Some smaller community branches will close on Saturdays and all branches save for the Central Library will close on Sundays.

The new hours, expected to save about $264,000, take effect Oct. 17. Fine and fee increases began Friday.

“During these times when revenues are down and the economy is in the tank we did have to make hard decisions, and we regret any inconveniences that the public may feel,” Poyer said.

Before the recession set in, Marynette Bollinger was a book store shopper. But Mountain View library in East Cobb is where she goes for books now, twice a week and sometimes on Sundays. With the new hours, her Sunday visit is out.

The cuts to the library system are sad, but “totally understandable,” she said.

“I’m glad that they are not closing any branches, that's a positive,” Bollinger, 60, said. “But everybody is cutting back, I get that. This is the part of the government that understands that.”

Libraries have been taking financial hits across the country. A report this year from the American Library Association found that increased library use in recent years did not lead to an increase in funding. Research by the association and a University of Maryland library think tank call the situation a "perfect storm" of growing community demand for library services and shrinking resources to meet that demand.

Cobb's library system circulates about 4 million items a year. More than 250,000 people visited the library in August compared to 230,000 in August 2009.

Joseph Fincher moved to Cobb County a month ago from Douglas County and uses the computers at the Central Library in Marietta every other day to look for work. For Fincher, 24, the library cuts could make his job search tougher.

“I think they need more computers and to make the Internet time longer,” he said. “Sometimes I’m right in the middle of filling out an application and my time will be up, and other people are waiting so I have to get up.”

To offset at least some of the budget cuts, the library foundation has hosted a number of fundraisers. In four years the foundation has raised $100,000, said executive director Mary Ellen Leffard.

The foundation’s efforts are on technology this year, including raising money for additional computer workstations costing up to $4,000. A foundation fundraiser with author Terry Kay was scheduled for Saturday.

“Our library system was No. 1 in computer usage in the Georgia last year,” Leffard said. “The library is the only place where people can come for access to a computer and free Internet. It’s a great problem to have so many people to come in who need the services, but it’s a challenge because the system doesn’t have the funds for everything they need.”

Box: Library systems across the metro area have had their budgets reduced this year:

Gwinnett County: The county system’s budget dropped $2.1 million to $22.1 million for fiscal 2011. Library hours, which were cut last year, will remain the same this year, and branches will remain open seven days a week.

DeKalb County: Budget cuts led to closing the Briarcliff branch on Oct. 16; staff will be reassigned. Stonecrest Library's opening will be delayed. Hairston Crossing and Salem-Panola branches, both closed for renovation and expansion, should reopen before the end of 2010. Library employees have to take four furlough days before year's end. Two years ago the materials budget was $2 million; the amount was $100,000 this year.

Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System: Mid-year reduction of $1 million in 2009. System experienced some cuts in materials this year, but no cuts in hours or staffing.

Clayton County Library System: County employees, including library staff, taking three furlough days; system under hiring freeze with eight unfilled positions. Have not reduced hours, but have more visitors because Henry County residents have been using the system (Henry County branches are closed on Saturday)

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