The Rabun County Public Library in Clayton, Georgia is cutting its hours effective July 1, 2009. The new hours will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. Previously, the library had been open until 8 p.m. on Monday nights.
When asked why the hours had been changed, the staff responded that the decision had been made by the library’s Board of Trustees due to budgetary concerns. I did not speak with the library manager, however, and so I cannot say for certain exactly what the impetus is behind this change.
What I can say is that this seems to be a trend throughout the nation in light of the recent economic downturn and the resultant loss of tax revenue. For genealogists, especially those who work a different full-time job during the day, these reductions in service can prolong research which had previously been done during evening hours; such research must now be conducted on days off or during the odd Saturday when our children and grandchildren aren’t on the ball field or attending some other extra-curricular activity requiring parental involvement.
The more critical hit is to those who depend on libraries for services they could not afford on their own (e.g. reading material or computer access), especially at a time when so many have lost their only sources of income (in Rabun County, for example, the unemployment rate is estimated to be 11-13%). Others affected by this change are students whose parents work during the day, but who have school projects assigned during the week requiring resources found only at the library. Unfortunately, the few hours that most small libraries are open on Saturdays are often not enough to serve the needs of the members of the community who cannot use the library during weekdays, for whatever reason.
No matter how small, all libraries serve as centers of education and knowledge to their community; any reduction of services is therefore harmful to the citizens they serve. Here in Rabun County, we have strong public and private educational systems, and a community that recognizes the importance of these institutions. Other areas are not as fortunate, yet their libraries are still an integral and necessary public body. At a time when education, both formal and informal, is key to the success of the individual and, therefore, the community at large, can we really afford to cut funding for our public libraries?