Library system regroups
Regional approach created to save branches

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County's libraries will be divided into a regional system, a move that spared Dacula's branch from closure but did not satisfy community members Tuesday.

The library system's board of trustees voted to create three regional libraries, which will be open 43 hours a week, nine community libraries and three library computer labs, which will both be open 35 hours a week.

The conversion is meant to offset a $4 million funding cut to the branches while allowing all 14 current branches to remain open and the newly constructed Hamilton Mill branch to begin operations.

The move comes a month after an uproar when the board voted to close the Dacula branch and switch operations to Hamilton Mill and at a time when officials considered closing two more locations.

Also in August, services were reduced from 71 hours a week to 43, with branches closing Sunday and Monday. But officials said the new plan would allow at least one branch in each region to be open every day of the week.

"We have to be fiscally responsible with the funds we have," Board member Dale Todd said. "These are drastic times. We need to make accommodations."

Dozens of protesters from Dacula attended the session, with many standing outside a picture window chanting and waving signs to the board members inside.

Dacula, Snellville and Lilburn branches are slated to be converted to computer labs.

The demonstrators were not assuaged by the decision, after Board member Phillip Saxton tried to convince the board to cut hours at all library branches to 35 hours a week.

"That is an equitable distribution of resources ... without hurting any particular group," he said.

System Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said the regional approach created an opportunity for service enhancements by offering classes at the computer labs and created an chance to stagger hours to offer library access seven days a week.

Plus, she said, computer service is the No. 1 request from library users, and people at the labs will have access to books through holds.

"No organization can sustain this kind of loss without a paradigm shift," Stanbery-Kellam said. "The beauty of this is we would be able to introduce new services during this dismal period."

Saxton, though, said the cutting of hours in certain communities amounted to discrimination, and community members said people need better access to books.

"You are asking us to completely change the philosophy," said Saxton, who also sought to delay the vote.

Members of the Dacula Business Association, which organized a rally on the issue this weekend, said a lawsuit would be filed within a week.

Betty Hale, a Dacula mayoral candidate who lobbied for five years for the opening of the branch three years ago, said the decision broke her heart.

"Shame on you," she told the board after the decision.

SideBar: The regions

Regional branches - Community branches - Library computer labs

· Suwanee - Norcross, Peachtree Corners, Duluth - Lilburn

· Five Forks - Grayson, Centerville, Mountain Park - Snellville

· Collins Hill - Buford, Hamilton Mill, Lawrenceville - Dacula