To the editor:

The fact is that the library bond referendum is an exceptionally important issue for voters, and they should vote based on the facts.

The fact is our libraries had 3.7 million visitors last year — 600,000 to the Central Library alone. We circulated 3.2 million items. More than 7,000 programs were attended by 250,000 patrons. Our Web site had 5 million hits, approximately 13,700 per day, and patrons used our computers for more than 1.8 million sessions.

The fact is that in the past 10 years, this age of the Internet, libraries across the nation including our own have seen increases in visitors every year. Your vote is about eight new libraries, two expansions, including the Auburn Avenue Research Library, and 23 renovated libraries.

The fact is people turn to public libraries even more in challenging economic times — borrowing books instead of buying them, checking out DVDs instead of renting them, using library computers to write their résumés and search for jobs. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal points to an average 20 percent increase in library usage since January. And a study of people in their 20s, Generation Y, by research firm Robert Charles Lesser & Co. states, “Gen Y’s favorite neighborhood amenity is a library.”

The fact is there are children in Fulton County who listen to story times in a 1,600-square-foot metal kit box and others whose neighborhood library is in a former funeral home.

The fact is we must do better. I know the decision will be difficult for many, given the current economic climate, but it is critical we support our public libraries — used now more than ever. To put the cost in perspective, an owner of a $300,000 home would pay $37.92 per year or just $3.16 per month.

The fact is this is not about having prettier buildings or an aesthetic judgment on the existing Central Library or its number of visitors, which is the highest in our 34-library system. The library’s mission is open and equal access to all. A library signifies opportunity for people of every age, income level, ethnicity or physical ability, offering programs that educate and engage. Great libraries make communities stronger, boost economic development and stand as their community’s center.

Seattle, Nashville, Minneapolis and others all understand this; they’ve built many new branches and, yes, new central libraries as well. A new Central Library in Atlanta would follow the path of these other great cities, but the fact is it is only a piece of the plan. The bond referendum includes $85 million for a new Central Library (not $200 million), with matching funds to come from the private sector. There is also a very real possibility that the Central Library would be renovated.

The fact is that your vote on libraries touches every Fulton County resident, and if you vote just based on the Central Library, neighborhood libraries through the county suffer. There is one question, for one county, for one tremendously improved library system. The fact is that Fulton County cannot afford to fall behind; we must do better.

John F. Szabo, director
Atlanta-Fulton Library System