Although services of the DeKalb County Library System as a whole have been expanding in recent years, one library location will be closing this month due to declining patronage.
"As of June 26 we will be closing the Liberty Library," said County Library Director Kathy Hendrixson in an interview with WJLE. "The nine member DeKalb County Library Board voted in May to close the library. It was a sad and difficult decision for the board to have to make but in order to use our staff and resources to the best advantage to the community and reach more people, we had to make this decision," she said.
The Liberty Library, located in a 700 square foot room in the old high school building, opened about ten years ago after having relocated from Dowelltown. But in recent years, fewer people have been taking advantage of it. "At that time (in the beginning) it was supported. More people were coming in and more children, but the demographics have changed in the area. There is just very little usage of the library down there now. It's been coming for about a year. We tried changing our hours. The board voted last year to take it down to two days a week. We did that last year and it opened it up so we could have more staff to do programs here (Smithville). This year in May we took it to one day a week because we were having so many programs and things going on at this library (Justin Potter) and needed the staff for that," said Hendrixson.
While the library will be closing, people in the Liberty area may make use of library services at either the Smithville or Alexandria location. "When one window closes, it presents another window of opportunity. The cool thing about this is that their library card can be used at any of our county libraries and they (people of Liberty) have been utilizing it. They have already been coming in here from Liberty and Alexandria has had people coming down there. That's a plus," Hendrixson continued.
"We're not abandoning the people in Liberty. We love those people and want to reach out to all our communities hopefully in a more effective way. I spoke to two senior citizens in Liberty recently and explained the READS Program to them and they were excited about this. That program offers our patrons over 60,000 free downloadable eBooks and audio books to their computers, Kindles, Nooks and smart phones. While these seniors may not get out as much and weren't using the library as much down there, this service lets them stay at home and read their books. All they need is a library card. There are children's books, fiction, etc. They can go in there and check those out and choose the times, seven, fourteen, or twenty one days and when the time is up, they (e and audio books) just disappear. There are no fines. And those books they check out counts toward our circulation at the library so it's like they came in here and checked out a book only it's from home and it’s free. We get a count each month from the state on how many READS books are downloaded through the library system in this county and last month there were almost one thousand downloads. We are fifth highest (downloads) among the fourteen counties in our region. I have also enrolled in an Advantage Program so that the patrons of our libraries can go in and have access to some of the best sellers and it's only available to them. It's a wonderful resource, "she said.
"Sometimes you have to have a library without walls. You have to take the library to the people and that's what we want to do. We want to do more partnering and more outreach with our communities. We're already partnering with Motlow State Community College, using their room (county complex) for computer classes. We're partnering with the arts community. They're coming in and doing art projects and things for the children. When we partnered with the Farmer's Market last year we brought the artists in for the arts and foods demonstrations and they had more people come to the Farmers Market that year than they had seen in a long time," she said.
"We did sixteen programs in May. It was the busiest time I can remember and that's all the way from discussion groups to partnering with the Farmers Market, computer classes, Older Americans Day where we partner with the senior center, art classes, kindergarten field trips,and now the Summer Reading program is going on. We've partnered with the Study Club for art exhibits and had six youth and ten adult programs with 641 people attending. That's just phenomenal to me. More outreach. That's what we want to do in the future," she said.
As times change, Hendrixson said the library system has to adapt. "For libraries to stay viable we have to change with technology. We have 30 plus computers for two libraries. When I started 15 years ago there were two computers. We are now automated where we can check books in and out without doing the little stamps. We couldn't go back to that system now. We do too big a volume during the day with people using the computers. We might have 50 people or more using the computers a day. Last year the population shifted and we were able to arrange our hours to open two late nights at Justin Potter. We're open six days a week here (Smithville) but we don't close until seven o'clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Alexandria is open four days a week on Mondays until six o'clock and Wednesdays and Fridays until five o'clock. They're open on Saturdays from ten until two".
And while they may be stretched thin, Hendrixson said the library staff gets the job done and she is proud of them. "Our staff has stepped up to the plate. We've changed their schedule and moved them around but they have given 100%. I really appreciate my staff and volunteers. We only have three full time staff and that includes me and three part time to run three libraries".
As the Liberty Library prepares to close, Hendrixson said she wants to express her appreciation to the town's leaders for allowing the library system to have a location there. Library books and materials in Liberty will soon be moved to another location. "We don't have any storage here at this library (Smithville) but we will move the materials and hopefully put them in a room and use it as outreach and hopefully eventually we can re-establish a bookmobile," she said.