Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Approximately 300 librarians from across Georgia will converge on the State Capitol in Atlanta today to do something with state legislators that they would almost never allow anyone in their libraries to do too loudly -- talk.
Today is "Library Day in Georgia," an annual event in which librarians and school media specialists, go to Atlanta to raise awareness among state legislators of the importance of libraries to local communities.
The event is sponsored by the Georgia Library Association, the Georgia Library Media Association, and the Georgia Association of Instructional Technicians.
This year, with decreasing revenues forcing state leaders to make across-the-board budget cuts, Georgia Library Association Administrative Services Coordinator Gordon Baker said librarians will have only one message: Be kind to libraries in the fiscal year 2011 budget. "The decisions made about libraries today impact not only us, but future generations as well," said Baker, who also is Clayton State University's library director.
Local library officials said libraries play an important educational and social role in the community. "I think the library is the hub of the community," Baker added.
Carol Stewart, director of library services for the Clayton County Public Library system, said that, in the current economy, where unemployment in Georgia is more than 10 percent, libraries are serving more people who are searching for a job. Public libraries have Internet access, which some people have given up at home to cut expenses, she said.
"Libraries are where people are turning to find assistance with their job searches," Stewart said. "They are coming here to put together resumes, and to look for a job on the Internet .. .We have many roles that we fill. One of them is to respond to the current needs of the communities that we serve."
Leslie Pratschler, the coordinator of media services for Clayton County Public Schools, said school media centers, like all other libraries, have an educational purpose as well. She said that while a library can be a gathering place for the community, it can also be the center of learning for a community of students. "A library is a means of getting access to information for children," she said.
As state revenues have dwindled in recent years, the budget pinch has begun to seep its way into local libraries. Stewart said the county's public library system has seen the amount of funding it gets annually from materials grants from the state decrease from $155,332, to $51,759.43, in the last two years. That money is used to purchase books.
In the Clayton County School System, 52 media paraprofessionals (also known as media secretaries) may see their positions eliminated in elementary and middle schools as part of an effort to cut spending by $85.2 million over the next two years. Nine secondary media specialist positions in the county's high schools may also be cut.
That would leave only one person working in those libraries, some of which have up 10,000 books being checked out per month, Pratschler said.
When the University System of Georgia recently presented a list of possible cuts at local colleges and universities to legislators, one of the suggested cuts at Clayton State was buying fewer periodicals for the school's libraries.
"There's nothing left to cut," Stewart said. "The skin and the fat were stripped away long ago, and the muscle has already been cut out. All that's left is the bone."