So last week, Wake County Public Libraries unceremoniously informed residents of a mixed-income Southwest Raleigh neighborhood that, starting July 26, the Athens Drive High School library many of them had come to rely on for book-learnin’ and Internet access would be closed.
Shockingly, this did not go over well.
In a letter, Ann Burlingame, deputy director of WCPL, told library patrons that the county commission and school board had decided to shutter the library to keep students safe.
“It became clear that the security requirements for a school library are greater than the security requirements for a public library,” Burlingame wrote.
The closing will, of course, hurt those in the neighborhood who don’t have a car or want to drive five miles to the Cameron Village branch. It will hurt the library staffers who are about to be, well, canned. It will hurt the kids who take special-needs classes at the library or attend the on-site preschool the library supports or the summer activities it offers. It will hurt Athens Drive teachers who used to be able to request books from the library system.
And it will hurt Hannah McKenzie, who at least once a week walks from her home in Avent West to the library with her 2-year-old son for story time. “It’s a huge part of our lives and community,” McKenzie says. “There are lots of reasons to keep it open.”
To make matters worse, there’s also the fact this decision was made without any sort of public hearing or even any advance notice to the library staff. And the county isn’t even considering a compromise, like, say, opening the library to the public on nights and weekends, when the students aren’t around. Oh, and this isn’t the first time the county has tried to do this: In 2009, the commission yanked the library’s funding, only to backpedal after a public outcry.
School board member Jim Martin, whose district covers Athens Drive High, says there are two problems with the library: One, nobody’s using it, which means the county has to subsidize its operations. Two, the people who are using it are maybe getting a little creepers.
“There have been issues in terms of the public getting into the halls of the school and there has been some stalking of students in the library,” he says. “It’s one of the lowest-used libraries in the county, and there was not a good mechanism to run fewer hours and sustain the library.”
“[The county] has never wanted a library at Athens,” says Public Schools First NC board chair Yevonne Brannon, who together with then-City Council member Miriam Block pushed to get the public library opened at the school in 1979. “This community has had a library for nearly 40 years. It should at least be movedrelocated in the community. Just closing it is not fair to all of the residents in this growing zip code.”
The residents will get a chance to plead their case to the county commission July 6.
Reach the INDY‘s Triangulator team at email@example.com. Additional reporting by Kaitlin Montgomery.