Thursday, October 15, 2009

15 OCT 09: Library Not-So-Fine

"They might as well scratch their name off the door." That's what a local library director said Wednesday, about a government which provides her library thousands of dollars. It took a big knife to her budget, so it might as well take some letters off the glass as well.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Martha Noyes is annoyed with the Russell County Commission - largely blaming it for forcing the Phenix City-Russell County Library to reduce its hours, both for operations and staff. The library now is closed until 12:00 noon on Thursdays and Fridays. And who knows how many patrons are getting lost, because the Chattahoochee Valley Community College library remains closed.

Martha Noyes revealed to your blog the four full-time staff members at the Phenix City-Russell County Library were reduced to 36-hour work weeks two weeks ago. The operating hours of the library were chopped from 56 per week to about 46. But thankfully, you can still check out books for free - keeping the library one step ahead of Netflix.

We were tipped off to the library's financial problems through a recent e-mail....

Hey Richard..Glad you have returned from your travels..Missed checking the gossip from Columbus in the mornings..

Phenix City Library has been forced to cut the operational hours..Russell County is the library sponsor,but does nothing for them..Maybe the library needs to become a city community service and not a Russell County one..The library is a great asset to the children and families of Phenix City..Come on step forward Phenix City city gov't and do the right thing and take over the funding of the library..

It turns out director Martha Noyes has NO real issues with Phenix City officials. She told me Wednesday the city provides $150,000 in funding for the library. But Russell County keeps cutting its contribution, and it's down to less than $12,000 in this new fiscal year. That's what happens when Hurtsboro opens a town library for competition.

Martha Noyes checked her records, and found Russell County budgeted more than $22,000 for the library three years ago. This fiscal year, the amount is about half as much -- and Noyes calls that "very discouraging." Let's hope the library shelves have several self-help books, for moments like this.

Martha Noyes says she asked a Russell County Commissioner about the cuts in library spending -- and was told a couple of commissioners have talked of eliminating county funding completely. "Is that ignorance or what?" Noyes asked me. I was admittedly too ignorant at that moment to give a funny answer.

The Phenix City-Russell County Library also is hurt by a reduction in state funding. The amount of support has been cut by about one-third, and the first check of the new fiscal year is being held in Montgomery until the end of the month. This may come down to a fight between school textbooks and library novels -- and some parents might argue both are fiction.

Yet here's the thing - the number of visitors to the Phenix City-Russell County Library hit a record high last fiscal year of more than 72,000. The reason for this should be obvious. The only full-service bookstore in Russell County is inside the Wal-Mart SuperCenter.

"Our patrons don't have a lot of money," Martha Noyes admitted - so they count on the library for checking out books and DVD's. Come to think of it, maybe that explains why Russell County has cut its funding. Commissioners want the staff to feel the patrons' pain.

In a way, Martha Noyes put her own library in a financial pinch in recent months. Instead of carrying over budget money as she has in the past, Noyes used the surplus to buy 20 new public access computers. Noyes says the computers are used a lot - but I hope no one called up the Gates Foundation project which has provided computers in this area for free.

A recent "Book and Bake Sale" by the Friends of the Library in Phenix City raised about $2,000. But Martha Noyes says that sort of activity should NOT be filling the gap in the library budget. The twice-closed "Library Café" in Columbus should make this clear -- doughnut holes simply can't fill budget holes.

While the hours have been cut, Martha Noyes made clear she does NOT want the Phenix City-Russell County Library to close on Saturdays and Sundays. She says that's the only time when some patrons can visit the library -- not to mention get away from their husbands' obsession with football games on TV.

Martha Noyes actually asked ME for suggestions about how to bring in more library money. That surprised me - and the best idea I could offer was NOT staging any "library fine amnesty" weeks for awhile.

(Another idea came to my mind Wednesday night - but turning the library into a poker room after hours would bring back too many "Sin City" memories.)

As it happens, the Russell County Commission approved a special election Wednesday related to money. Voters will decide next February whether to renew a sales tax for schools. Would a special library tax be the answer to Martha Noyes's budget crunch? Or would skeptical voters demand to examine the books - financial or otherwise?

The Phenix City-Russell County Library is ten years old, and has arguably the spiffiest web site in the Columbus area. But times are tight for libraries, along with almost everybody else. It would be a shame for the library to dwindle down to a fleet of bookmobiles - with the staff carrying books around the county in SUV's.

We had NO e-mails concerning Auburn Wednesday, so we'll move on to other pressing topics:

+ Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker visited the Columbus Rotary Club. His topic was a new crime-fighting "meth project" which will begin across the state next year. No one seemed to ask if Baker also had a "math project" in mind on his trip - as in adding to his gubernatorial campaign funds.

+ Columbus Regional broke ground on a $25 million expansion of its emergency room area. This comes a few weeks after St. Francis Hospital announced a $110 million expansion project of its own. So if I stay in good health and don't need to visit the hospital, does that make me a bad citizen?

+ WLTZ reported the Butler's Pantry restaurant will begin selling salads in grocery stores. Buy plenty of B. Merrill's grilling sauce at Piggly Wiggly to pour on top of them, and soon Columbus cuisine could top New Orleans.

+ WTVM showed a new concept in education at St. Mary's Road Elementary School. Students apparently sit on the floor in a circle, and do projects while the lights are turned off. Didn't they do something like this on college campuses 40 years ago -- only with some kind of extra smoke?

+ Columbus State University officially opened its satellite campus in West Point. Which class do you think will have more students - Conversational Korean, or English as a Second Language?

+ The C.S.U. women's soccer team clubbed Clayton State 4-0. The Cougars are ranked third in the country, and now have won 11 games by shutout -- so it's time these women gave the Georgia football team some defensive tips.

+ Former Columbus High School basketball star Ketia Swanier returned home, to speak at Fort Benning's Dexter Elementary School. Swanier played on this year's WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury - so maybe we finally have a replacement for the Gateway Lincoln-Mercury guy who hollers about "COHHH-lumbus."

+ WRBL spotted former Russell County High School baseball star Colby Rasmus back home from St. Louis. His family ate dinner at Shogun - and hopefully nobody challenged the chef to act like Ichiro Suzuki, and bat food around the room.

+ DeKalb County, Alabama authorities reported a father and son broke into a home - but the son was drunk, and passed out under the alleged victim's bed when he tried to hide. When WILL someone come out with a caffeinated beer?

+ Instant Message to the managers of Green Acres Cemetery: Your TV commercial seems a bit dry and boring to me. Maybe if you played organ music in the background - like the theme to the old "Green Acres" TV show.

SCHEDULED FRIDAY: Big announcements from the Columbus mayor, and ones who want to be (our "kitchen experiment" topic will be postponed)....

Today's main topic was the result of a blog reader's tip. To offer a story tip, advertise to our readers, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 425 (+ 14, 3.4%)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

site stats