Books in a bind: Despite cuts, library patrons remain supportive

LAWRENCEVILLE - During the summer, Deborah Chapman frequently visits the Lawrenceville library branch with her 13-year-old daughter, Kendellan, to browse for books.

When school starts, Chapman said she'll request holds on books after looking through the online catalog at home and stop by the library to pick up the materials. So once the new, reduced library hours go into effect, she said she'll adjust her schedule accordingly.

"I can live with that a lot more than I can live with having increased property taxes," Chapman said. "I can't afford that. I can afford to work around the library's hours."

Starting Aug. 9, the 14-branch system will be open fewer days and hours. The library will be closed Sundays and Mondays, shut down two hours earlier Tuesdays through Thursdays and open an hour later throughout the week.

"Unfortunately, due to the difficult financial times, the library administration has been forced to make some drastic decisions that impact library hours, services and programs," Library Executive Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam wrote in a letter posted on the system's Web site. "We have already implemented a hiring freeze and have now reached the tipping point where we can no longer provide full service with our reduced staff."

The hiring freeze and reductions, which also include an 8 percent reduction to the materials budget, the cutting of security officers and shelvers, and the suspension of October's planned Gwinnett Reading Festival, will save nearly $1.7 million, library spokeswoman Michelle Long said earlier this week.

The budget cuts followed the Gwinnett County Commission's vote last month against a proposed tax increase. Commissioners also voted to postpone the opening of the library system's 15th branch, currently under construction in the Hamilton Mill area.

Buford resident Rick Milleman, who uses the Collins Hill and Dacula branches, said he knows the economy is struggling right now.

"If they've got to cut, they've got to cut," said Milleman, who frequently checks out books and videos for his young children. "I wish that they didn't have to. ... We've got the best library system around, we really do, but, once again, if they don't have the funds, it's not practical to keep (operating at the same level)."

SideBar: At a glance

The following schedule will be the hours for the Gwinnett County Public Library's 14 branches, beginning Aug. 9.

· Sunday: Closed

· Monday: Closed

· Tuesday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

· Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

· Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

· Friday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

· Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.