What will happen if we close the county library?

In an article that was as much a cloaked editorial as it was news, the Daily Journal did point out aspects of the county library that many residents are probably not aware of. The main point is that the county library hosts an online computer system used by the other local libraries to track all borrowing.

All borrowing at the three city libraries, as well as Cumberland County College’s library, is done using an online connection to a computer system the county library hosts and operates.

What’s that mean?

No computer system. No borrowing of books, or tapes or anything else, officials warn.

One helpful critic online suggested that the libraries didn’t need a computer to track transactions, they could do it the old fashioned way. Yeah, and might as well go back to the old Dewey Decimal card catalogs, too. And when he buys his cup of coffee at Wawa, they can use an adding machine to calculate the prices  and write it up on an old fashioned receipt book.  Who cares if a trip to pick up a cup of coffee will now take twenty minutes waiting in line?  And he might as well get rid of his computer and correspond with friends using 3 cents stamps and the Pony Express! Getting rid of technology is not the answer – it is inefficient, and uses more manpower. There is a reason that industry is computerized – it SAVES MONEY!

But I am suspicious of the doomsday statements from the Library proponents, at the same time. Of course they will cloak their arguments in the most ominous of language. After all, it is their own butts they are saving. But, this is a major factor that must be considered whatever move is made. Shutting down the online system would effectively shutter, or at best disable the other libraries that are now paying for this system. The system needs to be kept operational, regardless of whether the county branch is kept open, or closed.

The article continues:

A less critical system, Smart Access Management (SAM), also would be affected if the county library closes its doors. It’s a time and print management system. For example, SAM monitors how long patrons have been signed on to public computers and tells them when to sign off.

This seems like something that would be integrated into the other system. Is it critical, or not? I suppose that depend on whether you are one of the people that depends on the local libraries to provide internet access. Do you want to wait five hours while the Facebook addict ahead of you plays Farmville online and forgets that they are not the only entity in the universe.

But again, can one of the other libraries take over the operations of the computer system? The college with an IT staff in place would be a likely candidate.

At present, the county library allocates $250,000 from its 2012 budget of $407,500 toward automation. That includes information technology and the online catalog.

That number seems awfully steep – if I were a freeholder, I would be asking for a complete breakdown of that budget.  here is another interesting tidbit:

Demographically, Upper Deerfield and Hopewell residents are the two biggest users of the county library.

Perhpas the townships that use the library the most should contribute more towards the upkeep? After all, Millville residents are paying for the Millville library, and then paying more for residents for the townships to use a library that we don’t use. One township resident claimed they liked the county library better than the one in Bridgeton. Well, I prefer Alaskan King Crab to frozen shrimp. I eat frozen shrimp because I cannot afford Alaskan King Crab. That argument falls on deaf ears of most people who are struggling to put food on the table or pay their mortgage these days.

And finally, there is the human toll. Cumberland County has the highest unemployment rate in the state. Our freeholders have done little to create an attractive business climate to lure in new industry. Closing a public library is a sort of move that sends warning signals to potential new businesses. Business will not locate in an area that is working counter to the quality of life of its residents. Corporations want quality employees, and when an area displays contempt for education and culture, an established corporation will bypass that county in favor of a more progressive area., all other things being equal.

The human story, the people losing the part time jobs, is key to the issue at hand. Sure, they are low-paying, part-time jobs. To a retired judge collecting a pension he never paid into, that might seem like nothing of concern. But to people retired, and living on a fixed social security income that has not seen a COLA in years, that pittance is a king’s ransom. Reducing jobs other than through attrition, or by eliminating redundant middle management and patronage jobs is unconscionable until everything possible has been done to attract new employment opportunities into our county.

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