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NAACP protest planned as Clearwater's budget cuts put little North Greenwood Library in peril

CLEARWATER

When the North Greenwood Library opened six years ago, it was hailed as a huge help for young people in the predominantly black neighborhood. Twice the size of the old library it replaced, it holds more books and computers.

But Clearwater may not be able to afford it anymore. Because of upcoming budget cuts, the city might close the small library and move part of its collection and its computers across the street to the North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatic Complex.

North Greenwood activists are campaigning to keep the place open. The NAACP and local ministers are staging a march in the neighborhood Friday evening.

"We oppose closing this library," said Clearwater NAACP president Alma Bridges. "A lot of people here don't have transportation to get their families down to the Main Library."

Marchers will gather at 6 p.m. at Cherry Harris Park and walk to the North Greenwood Library, where a number of speakers will talk, Bridges said. It's unknown how many people will show up.

The North Greenwood branch is one of five libraries in the city. Its circulation totals are only about a sixth of Clearwater's other standalone libraries — the Main Library and the East and Countryside branches.

To save $150,000 a year in tight economic times, the city is leaning toward doing the same thing in North Greenwood that it did with the Clearwater Beach Library.

Over 2007 and 2008, the city closed the Beach Library in the Pelican Walk shopping center and moved about 11,000 books and other items from it into 1,700 square feet inside the Beach Recreation Center. The library branch's circulation today is about the same as it was before the move, said city library director Barbara Pickell.

"It was extremely successful out at the beach, which gives us a model to work with," Pickell said. "We would use the same approach at North Greenwood, but it's a very different community."

In North Greenwood, more young people use the library, which is open on weekday afternoons. The plan would be to move a larger collection of children's books and youth-oriented material into North Greenwood's rec center, as well as all 10 of the library's computers.

The 8,000-square-foot library would shrink down into about 2,000 square feet of space — although Pickell said that 2,000 square feet doesn't include the rec center's bathrooms, foyer and meeting rooms, which the library would share.

"I certainly understand the community's desire to keep their library, but I also know we can continue to provide library services in a smaller location," she said.

However, North Greenwood residents feel that's not good enough.

"They wouldn't be able to house all the materials in that one room. To us, it's more or less a reading room rather than a library," Bridges said, adding that the library would likely lose its well-known African-American collection.

A number of people have come to recent City Council meetings to ask that the library be spared.

The council will make the ultimate decision. But City Manager Bill Horne said the city will have to make some unpopular cuts, and his preliminary budget will call for moving the library into the rec center.

"If you have limited resources, where do you put the priorities?" Horne said. "The issue is, can we afford it?"

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Fast facts

Library march

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday

Begins: Cherry Harris Park on N Greenwood Avenue at Marshall Street in Clearwater.

Ends: North Greenwood Library, 905 N Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

Clearwater library circulation

Fiscal year '07-'08:

Countryside: 381,972

Main: 364,232

East: 357,405

North Greenwood: 60,720

NAACP protest planned as Clearwater's budget cuts put little North Greenwood Library in peril 06/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:02pm]
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