Today is a bittersweet day for many Laurel County Public Library patrons as the doors will close for the last time on the library’s branches in Corbin and East Bernstadt.
I am included among those patrons. I have been a lifelong reader, as is my sister who took me to the Laurel library shortly after I moved back to Corbin to get my library card. That card has been well used.
The closures, announced in November by library officials, are expected to save the library $250,000 annually. Library officials expect to use those savings to expand the main library.
I guess it’s not surprising that usage statistics showed the main library — which is a beautiful facility and a wonderful resource to the community — sees the most activity. Whenever I’m in London and have the time, I go there to browse the books and DVDs. I have also sometimes attended the main library’s programs, though not as often as I would like due to the library’s distance from Corbin.
It is because of that distance I most often frequented the Corbin branch. Despite its smaller size, the library’s excellent website allowed me to reserve books and other resources for pickup from the Corbin branch. That location also spared me on more occasions than I care to admit from having an overdue item since all I had to do was swing by that branch to return my books or movies.
Putting selfish reasons aside, it seems most times I was in the Corbin branch I saw plenty of activity. I often had to make room for another person browsing through the DVDs. It was rare I didn’t see someone lounging in an armchair while reading newspapers. Most heavily used were the computers, it seemed — and that’s a big part of my concern about the branches closing.
Several years ago, when the economic downturn began and I started to report on its impact while working for a northeast Indiana newspaper, I learned libraries see a sharp increase in usage when money gets tight. It’s during those times that people may not be able to afford to subscribe to the Internet at home. They may not even have the appropriate equipment to do so. In these times, Internet access is crucial to anyone seeking a job, filing for benefits or for keeping bills paid.
For a period of time while in Indiana, I was among those library users who didn’t have Internet access at home — and that was an area where Internet access was more readily available than it is in southeast Kentucky. It was a matter of affordability. When I saw the computer users at the Corbin branch, I often remembered those times and wondered how many of those patrons relied upon the library’s computers as their only access to the internet.
During those hard times in Indiana, I also saved money by borrowing movies from the library rather than renting. I also borrowed books rather than buying them new. I still strive to continue those habits not only to save money, but to also try to avoid cluttering my house with more “stuff.”
Again, I wondered how many of the Corbin branch’s patrons were in similar circumstances when I saw people looking over the DVD collection.
While statistics do show the library’s main branch sees the bulk of the activity, my concern is that the minority of people who use those branches really need them. And, while driving to the main branch costs me mostly more time than I have, I worry those patrons with the least resources may not have that option because they can’t afford the gas or don’t have reliable transportation.
I worry because it seems to me we need more libraries, not fewer. Those we have — including Corbin’s — need more funding, not less.
The Laurel library officials who made the difficult decision to close the branches did so after months of consideration. Even as I am saddened by their loss, I look forward to the changes coming to the main branch. Unfortunately, I just won’t be there as often to appreciate them.
Becky Killian is the editor of the Times-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org