To the editor:

A few weeks ago, as I usually do on Friday after gym class, I dropped by my local library. But the doors were locked. Slammed shut. The books, CDs, computers were all in there, but no staff. I was shocked and frustrated. I came home and checked it out online. All the libraries would now be closed on Fridays. Other days, the hours were much shorter. What had happened?

After asking around, I discovered there was a shortage of funds and a new budget. Seventy people or so had been laid off. I discovered it was not just me who was unhappy. I went to the North Buckhead Civic Association annual meeting, where Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, Commissioner Robb Pitts, and candidates for District 3 Fulton County Commission were speaking. Each one professed great commitment to libraries. Each knew that cutting back library hours was a big problem. Eaves said that maybe volunteers could supplement paid staff so that hours could be extended.

Recently, I went to my Buckhead Branch Library to return books and check out others. While there, I spoke with the branch manager, James Taylor (yes, like the singer). We spoke of how our library was almost demolished by the Streets of Buckhead development in 2008, but how the community had rallied to save it.

The land had been donated for a library to Fulton County, only for that purpose. “This is sacred ground,” he told me, a sentiment with which I strongly agree. Buckhead Atlanta (the developer which followed Streets of Buckhead when they went bankrupt) is now building all around the library. Buckhead Atlanta is a friend of the library, and has said that they will help the library, with landscaping and more, to fit the upscale image of their complex.

I told Mr. Taylor what John Eaves had said about volunteers and longer hours. Mr. Taylor did not know about this, but he runs the volunteer program at the Buckhead Library and welcomes more volunteers. So anybody who wants to volunteer can call him at 404-814-3502.

I would like to see the old hours restored to the libraries, mine and all the others. It is problematic to lay people off, especially in this economy, so the powers that be, whoever they are, need to avoid laying library staff off, and rehire them if possible.

Sometimes, important people want to focus more energy on a large, fancy library downtown and put limited funds into that. But that is not where the people go. They go to their local branch libraries. So more local libraries accessible to more people are essential.

Public libraries are important because anyone, rich or poor, can walk into a library and check out a book. But the library has to be open for them to do so. It can be any book at the library, or a book you put on hold, or one ordered on loan from any other county library.

Whenever I walk into my local library, it is like they are giving away money. It is always busy, with lines to check out books and lines to use the computers. But they are giving away something sometimes more valuable than money. They are giving out imagination. They are giving away knowledge. They are giving us a path to a better place.

I have read that metro Atlanta has the least income and social mobility of any U.S. city.  So here, in this city/county, our Atlanta/Fulton libraries are more important even than elsewhere. Where there is financial poverty, there need not be poverty of knowledge, imagination, or spirit, if people are able to enjoy the riches found between the pages of a book.

Sue Clark Certain