New Buckhead Branch Library hours

Monday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tuesday: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday: noon to 8 p.m.

Thursday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Friday: closed

Saturday: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Source: Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System

New Sandy Springs Branch Library hours

Monday: noon to 8 p.m.

Tuesday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Thursday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Friday: closed

Saturday: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Source: Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System

Gwen Chamberlain dropped by her local branch library one recent Friday and found to her surprise that the building was closed.

“I thought, ‘That’s strange. Something’s happening,’” she said.

Something had happened, but it wasn’t the renovation work she first thought.

The Atlanta-Fulton County Library’s Buckhead Branch – just like 31 other branches in the system – now closes on Fridays and limits its hours of operation on other days of the week in order to save money.

The library system cut $5 million from its budget because of reductions in library funding in Fulton County’s 2014 budget, County Commission Chairman John Eaves told members of the North Buckhead Civic Association during their annual meeting March 25. The library system laid off part-employees and reduced hours, Eaves said.

The library system said it cut hours of library operation to 996 hours a week from 1,562. Only two of the system’s 33 libraries – the Central Library in downtown Atlanta and the Auburn Avenue Research Library – open on Fridays, the system said.

Reaction from some library patrons has come swiftly. “We’re all very upset and disappointed, of course, because we know how important the library is,” said Naomi Harper, publicity chairwoman of the Friends of the Sandy Springs Library.

The Sandy Springs’ library branch cut its hours of operation to 36 hours a week, from 56, Harper said. The cutbacks, she said, also have meant it has proved difficult to have maintenance work done on the buildings.

The Buckhead library now is open 32 hours a week and its patrons also questioned the changes. “I think communities need their libraries and the more hours they’re closed, the more people can’t use them,” Buckhead resident Sue Certain said. “It isn’t just my local library that I am so fond of, throughout the library system, libraries are closed. … It’s not just our library. It’s the whole county’s libraries.”

At the North Buckhead meeting, county officials and candidates for the District 3 seat on the Fulton County Commission, which now represents Buckhead and a portion of Sandy Springs, were asked about the changes at the library.

District 2 County Commissioner Robb Pitts, who has announced plans to run for commission chairman in 2014, expressed support for the libraries. “I’m going to do everything I can to restore those hours before the end of the year,” Pitts said.

Eaves also said he supported the libraries, which he called “one of the most popular things the country provides.”

He said the county has issued bonds to build eight new libraries and to renovate existing library buildings.  “We are in the process now where we are examining staffing problems so we can get library hours up,” Eaves said.

But residents questioned the reasoning behind opening new facilities when the system can’t pay to staff the buildings it now operates. The library system said in its statement that it had money budgeted to operate three new libraries – East Roswell, Wolf Creek and Palmetto — scheduled to open in 2014 or early 2015.

Chamberlain called building the new libraries during a time of budget cuts “ridiculous.”

“I would not spend money on new buildings if I didn’t’ have enough to operate the ones you have,” she said.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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