Southside Branch Library at 2114 Habersham Road is one of two Dougherty County libraries which closed due to budget funding cuts.
EDITOR's NOTE: Dougherty County Administrator Richard Crowdis sent an e-mail to the Herald Monday morning saying that Guy Craft and Ashley Moore have been removed from the agenda for Monday, July 16 for a conflict and have been added to the agenda for the July 30 meeting.
ALBANY -- Even as two Albany area libraries sit shuttered, their materials moved and personnel reassigned, the heads of Library Board and system are set to explain their actions to the Dougherty County Commission.
Library Board Chairman Guy Craft and Dougherty County Library Director Ashley Moore are slated to tell county commissioners their rationale for closing the Southside and Westtown Library Monday.
Public outcry over the decision to shutter the libraries and unanswered questions by some on the commission prompted District 2 County Commissioner John Hayes to ask County Administrator Richard Crowdis to put Moore and Craft on Monday's agenda.
"As I mentioned during the commission meeting on yesterday, I was deeply disturbed by the closing of two Dougherty County libraries," Hayes wrote to Crowdis. "Perhaps more appalling was the manner in which we, the county's governing body, learned of those closings. While county government has no direct purview over library operations, as its major funding agency and a governing body accountable to the citizens of Dougherty County, library officials had a duty to inform us.
"The outrage over these closings continues and frankly, we do not know if such drastic action was avoidable; we do know that the impact will be significant."
Library officials said that the decision to close the two libraries and lay off six employees was made after alternatives had been considered to help the system cope with increases to healthcare costs and reductions to the state's portion of library funding.
A look at the utilization numbers show that Westtown and Southside were the most under used libraries in the system, with only Southside hitting double-digit percentages of users during the 2012 fiscal year.
Those numbers show that Southside had 6.8 percent of the system's total circulation, 9.5 percent of total computer sessions, 12.49 percent of total users and 10.25 percent new cardholders.
Westtown's numbers are even lower in some regards with 7.41 percent of the total circulation, 8.8 percent of computer sessions, 9.3 percent of total users and 5.6 percent of new cardholders.
Moore said the decision was a tough one, but one that was needed if the system as a whole was to stay financially solvent.
"No one, me above all, wanted to close a library, much less two," Moore said. "But we have few other choices if we're going to try and keep the system on a level footing."
But some residents, including Hayes, have voiced concerns that the two closed libraries were situated in some of the county's most economically disadvantaged areas.
"As we strive to improve public school graduation results, and the overall academic performance of our student populations, barriers to progress must be removed, not created," Hayes wrote. "The closure of these two libraries will limit access to much needed resources, such as research materials, computers, and even the environments which are more conducive for after-school study.
"Many of the students living in the South and Westside communities will be challenged to get to the locations that remain open due to lack of transportation, and a variety of other disadvantages," Hayes wrote.
The Library's FY2013 budget is $2.1 million, $78,000 less than the FY2012 budget.