Westtown Branch Library patron Devon Walker, center, speaks out against the recent library closings as her 8-year-old daughter, Mikayla, right, holds an accelerated reading program trophy during Thursday’s protest rally outside the government center on Pine Avenue.
ALBANY A group of concerned citizens called on members of the Library Board Thursday to cease efforts to close two Dougherty County facilities and come to the table to find ways to save the two doomed libraries.
Without an 11th-hour reprieve, Southside Library at 2114 Habersham Road and Westtown Library at 2124 Waddell Ave., are set to be closed Sunday. Members of the Library Board voted to shutter the facilities in an effort to cut costs.
The group, which assembled in front of the government center Thursday afternoon, challenged board members to find ways to save the two locations.
The Rev. Eddie Bankston, head of the group known as People, Clergy, Community Involvement (PCCI), said that officials are already in the process of moving books and equipment from the libraries — an act that should cease immediately.
“The PCCI is asking and really and truly demanding that, as we visited those libraries today, we noticed that they were removing books and other materials, and we’re asking that that be immediately stopped and we request and demand a meeting with the Library board,” Bankston said.
Bankston said that local school students and non-traditional students who are working on course work online depend on Internet access that the libraries provide. He also questioned the motives of the board to strip educational facilities from portions of the communities around Albany that he said “need them the most.”
On June 13, the board voted to close the two libraries and lay off six staff members to deal with a $121,000 budget gap. In addition to the closures, the board voted to increase the fines for overdue books.
“We also believe that there is a hidden agenda,” Bankston said. “Because there is no way that, in a city that is listed as one of the poorest in the nation, that they would take away educational facilities from those who need them the most.”
Should the library board fail to act, Bankston offered a clear ultimatum.
“If our demands are not met, we will plan and mount a campaign against the T-SPLOST that they are asking people in this area to vote for,” Bankston said. “No longer will we continue to pay our (sales) tax dollars and they take these facilities from us.”
The T-SPLOST is a one-percent sales tax initiative pushed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the state government to fund regional transportation projects. In Southwest Georgia, the measure is expected to generate $530 million in revenues for local roads and bridges over a 10-year period.
Devon Walker, a breast cancer survivor and patron at Westtown, said that the library is a safe haven for her daughter, who she said won an award from the Dougherty County School System for reading 165 books, and pleaded that the library board consider other alternatives.
“After my cancer, we had to cut off our Internet service and the library was the only option my daughter had to complete her school projects and reports,” Walker said. “I feel like not having that library open would be a detriment to this community and would hurt my daughter’s ability to do her work.”
Walker urged the board that, if the library had to be closed, consider it a temporary closure.
Keata Allen, a concerned citizen, said that he was so appalled by the closing of the two facilities that he would seek to bring it to the attention of federal authorities.
“When you make an announcement such as this, one so diabolical, it certainly infers that the government of the United States is literally just about fallen to pieces,” Allen said. “We will stand unflinchingly for the maintaining and operating of these libraries.”
Rosalyn Coney, who has addressed the Dougherty County Commission seeking some form of involvement from that body, reiterated her call for outside involvement to help bridge any financial gap between keeping the libraries open or having them close.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we can either pay for this now, or pay much more for it later,” Coney said, referring to the concept that if you don’t spend money educating children then you’ll spend more money jailing or supporting them when they grow up.