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Officials from the Dade County Public Library announced last week a long-awaited initiative to increase library hours.

“We urgently need to add to the time the library is open,” remarked library manager Marshana Sharp. “Our citizens, and especially our school children, are begging us to keep the library open longer.”

At present, the library operates only 27 hours a week. “We need to fix that,” said Ginnie Sams, a member of the Library Board. “Our library should be open at least 36 hours to provide the most basic level of service to our school children.”

Sharp agrees. She proposes adding nine hours a week during times when school children are out of school – doing homework, research projects, and just plain reading. This means re-opening the library on Saturday and at least one additional evening, according to library staffers.

The library remains a much used destination. In the second half of 2013, it served more than 15,714 visits, an increase of 2,821, or 22 percent, over the year-ago six month period, according to statistics compiled by the Cherokee Regional Library System.

The library’s budget crisis has made headlines. Until two years ago, the School Board had been funding roughly $38,500 of the library’s budget. Facing its own financial problems, the School Board abruptly cancelled all library funding. People filled School Board meetings to denounce the cuts. Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to safeguard library funding. Yet the lack of School Board funding still plagues the library.

Despite continuing financial assistance from the Dade County government and the City of Trenton, some 16.5 percent of the library’s expenses last year were paid by donations – just enough to cover the library’s budget deficit.

“Our private donors have been a godsend,” remarked Donna Street, President of Friends of the Library. “But we can’t expect them to pay for a basic public service indefinitely.” The state also provides some funding, and it did furnish the library with updated computers last year.

As county and city officials say they are feeling tapped out, all eyes are on the School Board. School tax revenues are way up. Next year’s budget negotiations have started. Library advocates say they are cautiously optimistic that the School Board will restore library funding. School Board officials have hinted they might help the library. But then again, indications are that the School Board isn’t inclined to restore funding to the level of two years ago – not yet, anyway.

The kinship between the School Board and the library is long-standing. “For over 40 years, we have had a partnership between our School Board and the Dade County Public Library,” Street recalled. “It has been the school people who inspired, funded, and grew this library. Let’s restore this historic relationship.”

The bottom line for the library this year is that it must have about $23,200 just to erase the operating deficit.  Another $15,300 will allow the library to function 36 hours a week. Those amounts are what the School Board cut two years ago.

 “Our School Board members – five people – can make or break our library,” Street noted.

Sharp says she hopes the School Board will reinstate funding. “It is essential,” she maintains, “for our library to serve the school age children of our community.”

Public records show the library has done some major belt tightening to the point that each additional hour of library time costs less than $33. This figure includes all budgeted overhead, including staff salaries, utilities and supplies. “With 12 percent more money in the budget, we can up library hours by a third,” observed William Back, another Library Board member.

Back continued, “This is a bargain our School Board should take advantage of. Dade County deserves a full time library. We would be penny wise and pound foolish to tell our children they don’t deserve access to their library after school hours.”

Sharp pointed out that our library offers access to e-books, newspapers, the Internet, genealogy resources, voter registration, computer classes, GED classes, and, oh yes, books. “The list of Dade County library services just goes on and on.”

Linda Wilson, an active library supporter and retired teacher, remarked ruefully, “Here we have this wonderful, modern, well-equipped library that provides so many services people need and use, but we lack the funding to keep it open. It is such a vital part of educating our children.”

“Years from now,” said Back, “we will have to answer the question, “Did our School Board invest enough in our young people to provide the educational tools they needed to succeed?” We sure hope the answer will be yes.”


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