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County shelves Hernando library

As noon approached Thursday at the Hernando Public library, fill-in librarian Ruth Todd glanced over at the clock and began laying this historical community marker to eternal rest.

At 11:50 a.m., she opened the door to the one-room facility and, holding it open with one foot, she turned the lock on the drop-off box. Nothing there.

A few minutes later, she pressed the off button on the lone Internet-access computer, causing the screen to make a soft but high-pitched fuzzy sound. The printer and the computerized library catalog made similar noises, resembling last gasps of air, when they were turned off for good.

They created rather anticlimactic music to the library's last day of existence.

"At least you're not stuck without a job," Ben Vermeulen, the library's last-ever visitor, said to Todd, a library aide who has been running the place for the past two months. She will return to her job at the Central Ridge library in Beverly Hills.

Some historical closings merit a farewell party or, at the very least, a little human interest. Not this one. This humble facility, built 30 years ago with money from barbecuefund-raisers and stocked with donated books, bid a silent adieu after supporters fought valiantly, but in vain, to keep it open.

Only about a half-dozen people turned up between 9 a.m. and noon, the normal operating hours, Todd said. Not surprisingly, one of them was Harry Rost, the Hernando resident who led the battle to keep the library from closing.

Despite his pleas about community pride and loss of service to the area's older residents, the County Commission sided with library officials who called the facility a resource drain and voted to shut it down.

So Rost on Thursday could think of nothing better to do than go down to his favorite library and take out a bunch of books. The Citrus County Division of Library Services, which began clearing out the room Thursday afternoon, is giving card holders a month to use the books and return them.

"We tried," said Rost, who led a petition drive that accumulated 700 signatures. "We pretty much knew it wouldn't succeed. The commissioners had their minds made up. I wanted to let some of them know we still deserved a local library.

"It hurts because we started this thing ourselves. We thought we had something that would live on. I guess it's progress. . . . No, it's not progress, it's a detriment to the area."

Residents, he said, made the library a regular stop on their visits to the bank and other places.

"For a lot of us old people in Lake Park, we were happy it was there," Florence Kissinger said as she ate lunch with her family at the nearby park. "It was one of our stops. We would go to the bank, the post office and the library."

However, the wishes of a determined activist like Rost could not overcome the harsh realities. Library officials trumpeted out sobering figures, which showed that 70 percent of the 597 Hernando card holders had not used the facility all year.

Locking the library's doors would save $17,500 in 1999 and the year 2000, money that could be used for much-needed book and resource acquisitions at the other county facilities where use is on the rise, officials said.

The county has tried to compensate for the loss by offering to deliver books to homebound residents and transport residents to the libraries. A special reference telephone number _ 746-6622 _ has been established to answer reference questions.

"Libraries are just like police stations and fire stations," commission Chairwoman Vicki Phillips said. "You can't have one on every corner. You have to utilize your resources to the most potential. It's not like we're denying service."

It's not clear what will become of the space, which is attached to the Hernando Volunteer Fire Department and overlooks Lake Hernando.

"I've heard several different ideas," Phillips said. "You could expand the fire station, that it could be used by the Parks and Recreation Department or that it could become an office for the Sheriff's department."

Vermeulen, whose wife owns a place off the lake, came in around 11 a.m. to research home products in Consumer Reports magazines. They own a contracting business and, with plans to build cabins in Canada, they wanted prices for mattress, paint, televisions and generators.

As he sat down at one of the small, round reading tables and noted information on a pad, he had to be told the library was closing down in 20 minutes. A disappointed snowbird was the library's final visitor.

"I'm sorry to see it go," he said, "because it's handy."