The stakes have risen in an ongoing dispute between Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Library officials and area residents served by the Dacula branch, despite the board having rescinded its August decision to close the three-year-old facility and shift the staff and collection to the yet-to-be-built Hamilton Mill Library. Although GCPL trustees agreed September 22 to keep the Dacula branch open after all, it would become a computer center instead of a full-service library in 2010—an action that has further inflamed the concerns of some community members.
“We did manage to save Dacula’s library, but by saving it [the board] decided to turn not only it but two other libraries in Gwinnett County into computer labs with no books,” Dacula Business Association President Chad Parson told American Libraries. “So our fight continues.”
Parson is doing his best to expand that fight countywide by circulating a petition calling for the dismissal of GCPL Executive Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam, and should library trustees refuse, the firing of the board by the county commission. Similar sentiments are also being expressed on the two-week-old “They Took My Books” blog.
“We are adamantly opposed to the decision to move toward a regional/central library system that includes turning the current libraries in Dacula, Snellville and Lilburn into computer labs,” the petition states. Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks also weighed in: “Under your leadership, the board chose the easy way out,” he wrote in an open letter to Stanberry-Kellam September 23, referring to the reorganization plan approved the day before. Charging that political maneuvering had taken place behind the scenes, Wilbanks declared, “A computer lab is not what we paid for, voted for, lobbied for, and supported with our time, effort, and sweat. . . . We need and want the full range of services that you and the board have denied us.”
Ironically, the controversy marks the second time in four years that the head of GCPL has been targeted; in 2006 the board summarily fired without explanation JoAnn Pinder after 15 years of service despite widespread community support for her retention, and trustees who included current board Chair Phyllis Oxendine immediately appointed then–business manager Stanberry-Kellam as Pinder’s successor.
In a September 28 open letter to Gwinnett County citizens, Stanberry-Kellam defended the regional library service model that has quickly become such a lightning rod. “In an effort to meet our more limited financial parameters while satisfying the needs of this community,” she wrote that changing three full-service libraries into “computer access libraries” would benefit their respective communities. “Customers will be able to use computers for longer periods of time . . . and use a photocopier,” explained Stanberry-Kellam, who also offered assurances that “librarians and other staff qualified to address information and reference questions” would staff the facilities and “you will still be able to browse the entire collection online and request delivery of materials to the pick up location of your choice.”
An October 6 proposal by Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly might offer an alternate solution: a two-mill increase that would increase property taxes an average of $14 per month, according to the October 7 Gwinnett Daily Post. “It has become crystal clear to me in recent weeks that we are cutting badly needed programs—services our residents rely on—and that those cuts are hurting families,” Kenerly, who is not running for reelection, stated at the meeting. “It may put us on more solid ground as we move forward,” commission Chairman Charles Bannister said. “Maybe more people will approve of this today than last time,” he added, referring to residents’ opposition to a three-mill hike earlier this year that has resulted in higher parks-and-recreation fees in addition to library service cutback plans.
“In a sense we saw it coming,” neighborhood-library backer John Osborn said in the Daily Post. “They have to raise money from somewhere.”