The Gulf Beaches Public Library in Madeira Beach is a bright and friendly place. On Wednesday morning the staff was hanging Halloween decorations in the children's section, and getting ready for the afternoon session of its Alfred Hitchcock film series (Foreign Correspondent).
Just after the library opened, the parking lot already was half filled, and bikes were lined up in the rack. Most of the computers already were in use. "I'm looking for the American Revolution," one patron wandering in the shelves said to a staff member.
I knew how he felt.
For more than 40 years, the Gulf Beaches Public Library has been supported by five Pinellas County cities — Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
Treasure Island has pulled out of the deal for the coming year, citing a tight budget. Treasure Island will not chip in its $107,000 share of the library's $513,000 budget.
If you are a Treasure Island resident who wants a library card, you'll have to pay $100, the same as any other outsider to the Pinellas library system. The city will not reimburse you, as some Pinellas cities do.
It is fair to say that Treasure Island's unilateral pullout has left some bad feelings all around — among the other cities holding the bag, as well as some of its own residents. The library is drawing down its reserves while it figures out what to do.
The library has an explanatory sign at its entrance for Treasure Island residents. To encourage them to buy a card, the library is holding a drawing for two $50 gift certificates at Publix, and two $50 gas vouchers (or these days, about half a tank).
Jan Horah, the library director, asked me to say this: If you're a Treasure Island resident who intends to buy the $100 card, please do it there, so her branch gets the money.
I saw a cheerful fellow come in, sit down at the front desk and eagerly pay his $100. I asked him if he was from Treasure Island, and he said yes.
"My wife and I are frequent users," Dick Krahenbuhl, 70, told me. She'll go through two or three books a week; he's the "shuttle driver" back and forth to the library.
"I disagree with the city, and I'll tell you why," he said. "They'll never convince me there isn't some way to save money somewhere along the way."
Actually, Treasure Island's $16.7-million budget looks reasonably tight. It's cut jobs and jacked up other fees on residents.
If I were mean, I would point out that the City Commission itself will cost $60,000 next year in salaries, life and medical insurance.
Life and medical insurance!
But that would be mean.
Treasure Island's alternative was to keep property taxes just high enough to cover the $107,000 library cost, averaging an extra $21 per parcel of land.
Twenty-one bucks. Not worth it, they said. Let those who want a library card pay $100. And if they don't have $100, the heck with them.
It seems odd to have to argue for the importance of libraries in a democracy. In fact, I don't think you can have the second without the first. But this view is probably out of fashion in a defiantly know-nothing age.
If Treasure Island doesn't think libraries are important, Treasure Island deserves what it gets in return. That goes for the rest of us, too.