ROSWELL, Ga. – Budget cuts have caused the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System has cut back library hours – even closing most branches all day on Fridays – much to the chagrin of library supporters who gathered at the Roswell Library to protest the cutback in library services.
AFPLS has begun construction on two new libraries in North Fulton as part of the $274 million library construction program with eight new libraries slated countywide. But that rings hollow to the dozen or so residents who staged a protest in front of the Roswell Library.
The protesters chose last Friday to protest at Roswell Library to highlight the fact that it is now closed on what had been Roswell’s busiest day.
The county slashed the AFPLS budget by $6 million Jan. 27 in a 5-2 vote, despite levying the first millage increase in the county in nearly a quarter century. That has forced a 36 percent reduction in public service hours and scores of layoffs.
The protesters say it is almost laughable to be building libraries while the doors of existing libraries are locked because of budget cuts.
Susan Bergin is one of the protesters who came because she said she was angry.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I always had a place I could go. When I had children, I took them to the library. Now my children want to take their children here and often as not they can’t get in,” Bergin said.
Reigenia Frazier was one of more than two dozen residents who had come to the library only to find it closed. She quickly became a convert for the protesters.
“Every day is busy here. And the hours are so erratic, there’s no consistency,” Frazier said when she saw the posted hours.
And she made another telling point about children’s safety.
“The library is a safe haven for children after school. When they get off the school bus, here, they can wait at the library to get picked up by their parents. Where will they go now? This is awful.”
Janet Russell, a longtime political gadfly in Roswell had plenty to say.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “This [Roswell] is the sixth biggest city in the state. They didn’t consult the libraries which are their busiest days. Now we’re building more libraries and what will do then? It’s just crazy.”
Fulton County Commission candidate Eric Broadwell joined in the protest. He said he doesn’t understand how other departments including the Tax Commissioner’s Office and the Marshal’s Office got budget increases and the Sheriff’s Department was up $6 million, while the library budget is almost slashed $4 million.
“The priorities should match the citizens’ needs,” Broadwell said.
A lot more goes on in libraries than just circulating books, the protesters said. For many residents, the computers available there are their only access to the internet. Now the library is open one day a week past 6 p.m.
Sam Weintraub, 22, came to use the computers only to find the library closed.
“I was going to print out a sales pitch I want to take around. I don’t have a printer, and this is the only public printer I know of,” Weintraub said. “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Jeff Schaun didn’t know about the new hours either. He was going out of town and came to pick up some materials he had put a hold on to pick up.
“I’ll be gone for a week, so now the books I wanted will be released for circulation,” he said. “It throws a kind in my day. I assume they need new libraries, but to close the whole day? I don’t understand that.”
Beginning Feb. 12, only two of the AFPLS 33 branches — the Central Avenue Library and the Auburn Avenue Research Library, both in Atlanta, — have remained open seven days a week. Every other branch will now be closed Fridays, and 20 of those 31 will be shut at least two days per week.
Those 33 branches in the metro Atlanta and the surrounding community serve a population of about one million with a collection of more than 2.5 million items and recorded more than 4 million patron visits last year.
In all, the system’s 1,562 public service hours will be trimmed to 996, a 36.2 percent reduction from 2013.
Staffing levels are also taking a big hit. AFPLS will eliminate 70 part-time staff members and 50 full-time positions this year. Yet East Roswell and Palmetto branches will open their doors by the end of the year with two more branches in opening in 2015.
AFPLS does have $1 million set aside for staffing these new branches as they come on line.