The usually packed calendar of monthly events at Washington Memorial Library was half empty.
There is nothing listed on the schedule for next week or for the weeks after.
Laminated paper signs in the elevator warned visitors that the library is set to close Thursday until further notice.
The doomsday plan for what could happen to all Macon-Bibb libraries next week was laid out in a grim discussion Tuesday night in the third-floor board room.
“We don’t have the money for one more payroll and closing the library,” Middle Georgia Regional Library System Director Jennifer Lautzenheiser said.
The Macon-Bibb County Commission is expected to vote Thursday on whether it will spend $238,000 to keep the libraries staffed and operating for another month.
“If this doesn’t happen, we have to close the library,” she said.
Board members at the called meeting unanimously voted to furlough most employees for up to 30 days if the library is unable to pay them for the next pay period, which begins Monday. A month would at least allow employees to keep health insurance until the commission votes on a millage rate, Lautzenheiser said.
Should the county vote to not fund the library, the consequences have the potential to be far-reaching.
“This is unprecedented and really unthinkable,” State Librarian Julie Walker, of the Georgia Public Library Service, told The Telegraph by phone. “I never anticipated a day when one of our counties would decide to completely eliminate public library funding.”
“The library network is strong,” she said, and word about the situation in Bibb County is being talked about across the country.
According to recent results from the Georgia Milestones Test, a statewide exam that measures proficiency in various subjects, an average of only 24 percent of Bibb County schools students in grades three through seven are proficient in English language arts.
“This is just going to make that worse,” Walker said.
There is at least one public library in all of Georgia’s 159 counties, “including the ones that are a lot poorer than Bibb County,” Walker said.
In talking about the worst-case scenario, having to close the Washington Memorial Library, Lautzenheiser told board members that its massive genealogical archives would have to be moved to the Georgia State Archives. Loaned items would have to be returned. There would be great cost. “I don’t think it will actually happen,” she said, “but legally we have to have the funding for it.”
Potential Problems with PINES
Only 14 counties, most of them near Atlanta, have libraries that are not part of the Public Information Network for Electronic Services called PINES.
Bibb County libraries joined PINES in 2000, a year after the network was conceptualized as “a push toward a library without walls,” according to Telegraph archives.
The statewide network allows PINES library card holders to check out or return books at any of the 407 PINES libraries.
But there is a potential for Bibb County PINES card holders to lose that privilege if the its libraries remain without funding this week.
If that occurs, Walker said the nine-member PINES executive committee will likely call an emergency meeting to talk about what to do next.
It is PINES policy that anyone who “lives, works, goes to school or owns property” in Georgia can get a PINES card, even if they live in one of the 14 counties that do not have PINES libraries, Walker said.
However, residents in those counties “are paying their share of taxes” for their county’s public library, she said.
“So, there is some reciprocity there. … If there is a county with taxpayers that do not support any public library, it may well be that the committee determines that they have no access to any other libraries in the state.”