The Friends of the Library could use some friends in high places. Tuesday morning, Hernando commissioners voted unanimously to accept a new three-year plan for the county library system that focused on serving the community, being innovative, bolstering customer service and being cost-efficient.
The strategic plan, a requirement for accepting state aid, set broad goals for a library system that has absorbed $2 million in budget reductions over a three-year period, reduced operations by 48 hours each week and cut 16 positions from the payroll. In December, retiring Tax Collector Juanita Sikes predicted the commission would close library branches to help offset a projected $10 million shortfall in the 2014 fiscal year. Last week, at a town hall meeting to cull public input on the upcoming budget, one citizen suggested all library branches open part-time only.
On Tuesday, commission chairman David Russell sought an answer from the county staff.
"Once and for all,'' Russell asked, "are there any plans to close libraries?''
"Not from me,'' said Adam Brooks, library services director.
The answer is not unexpected. Brooks' job is to keep libraries operating efficiently. Any push to diminish such a significant quality of life attribute is likely to come from a shortsighted commissioner, not from a library scientist who understands the vital role libraries play in benefiting the community.
It was unfortunate the conversation ended just then. Russell, as chairman, missed an opportunity to alleviate public concerns about the libraries' future. Think of the strong signal he would have sent to constituents, county administration and fellow commissioners with just one more comment of his own:
"Nor from me, either.''