TREASURE ISLAND — Dabney McLean is appalled that her city government wants to stop funding the library system used by Pinellas beach residents.
"I think it is just an outrage, frankly," said McLean, 77, a longtime library volunteer.
It may be too early to write an obituary for the Gulf Beaches Public Library, but it's not too early to say Tampa Bay libraries are facing economic challenges that are chipping away at a cornerstone of American life.
Treasure Island commissioners voted Wednesday to stop funding the library system, meaning residents there could pay $100 per household each year to use the library. More than 100 residents crowded the Treasure Island commission chambers to protest the city's plan to abandon membership in the library.
"It's so frustrating because libraries are what's good in America," said Denise Adis, a member of the Gulf Beaches library board of trustees, in an interview. "It's just part of society to have a library. … It's just mind-boggling to me to think that the Treasure Island residents will not have libraries available to them."
Since the days of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, free public libraries have been as much a part of the American landscape as amber waves of grain.
In the Tampa Bay area, local governments have tried to improve on the classic concept.
Instead of merely having a library in every town, counties have linked their libraries to make wider cooperatives. In Pinellas, a library card from Tarpon Springs will allow you to check out books in St. Petersburg that could be returned in Largo.
But lean budgets are forcing cuts. The Treasure Island crisis is merely the most dramatic of changes around the region.
The Hillsborough County library system has decided that after Oct. 1 it no longer will allow residents of other counties to borrow books or other materials, unless they pay a $100 per-household annual fee. It blamed Amendment 1, the measure voters approved in January that cut property taxes paid to local governments.
Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Hernando County all have recently reduced library hours.
Cutting the Treasure Island library funding means residents of that city no longer will have free access to the Gulf Beaches system, which is located in nearby Madeira Beach and also serves Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
However, Treasure Island residents would be allowed to spend $100 per household to get a library card that is good in all the libraries that are members of the Pinellas Public Library cooperative, which includes the Gulf Beaches library.
In a 5-0 vote, Treasure Island city commissioners approved a budget Wednesday night that eliminates a $107,000 annual payment to the library.
But those Treasure Island residents supporting the library may have won at least a partial victory by persuading a majority of the commission to seek a compromise.
The commission is hoping the library will extend at least a 30-day grace period to its residents so that they can continue using the library during budget negotiations.
The price could be too high for the library and its other member towns, however. Treasure Island Commissioner Phil Collins proposed that the library system cut its budget and the amount of money Treasure Island would pay to remain a part of the five-community consortium.
"I am asking them to take another look at their budget," Collins said.
How basic is access to a library? Consider the fact that Sam Coleman, 69, who is retired, doesn't even go to the Gulf Beaches Public Library. But he fired off an e-mail of complaint to Treasure Island commissioners just the same.
"It struck me as being kind of strange that we would not fund the library. That's just like funding public schools."