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Dropped stops

Library’s Bookmobile to make fewer visits to rural parts of Calhoun County in next year

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Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County's Bookmobile at the Golden Springs shopping center. Alice Guyton helps Louis Buchanan off the bookmobile. 

When part-time librarian Linda Levens pulled her repurposed, bookshelf-lined van into the Golden Springs Shopping Center parking lot Wednesday morning, her regular patrons were waiting.

“She knows what I like, and usually has got some ready for me,” said 84-year-old Dean Spurlin. She held a red bag stuffed with books ready to be returned.

Spurlin was one among the handful of seniors who visited the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County’s Bookmobile in Golden Springs on Wednesday.

Other seniors who live in parts of Calhoun County farthest from the library in Anniston may not get the chance to check books out from the bookmobile, as the rolling library will make fewer stops in the most rural parts of Calhoun County this year. The discontinued visits — 11 in places such as Rabbittown and Webster’s Chapel — come as a result of a 5 percent cut in the Calhoun County Commission’s appropriation to the library, director Teresa Kiser says.

County officials respond by saying they can’t give money they don’t have. Several pointed to a 2016 budget that relied on a transfer from reserves to remain balanced as evidence of the county’s fiscal woes.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Levens parked the van at New Adventures Learning Center in Oxford, opening her door to 15 children from the daycare.

The children plucked from the lowest shelves, then sat on the floor and leafed through the thin books.

“Some of my people are not real happy,” Levens said of the stops she won’t make anymore, between checking out books for the children. “But when your budget’s cut ...”

A wrapped basket filled with chocolates and other treats sat on a small counter in the van. A poster at the back of the vehicle asked patrons to consider donating $1 toward diesel fuel — they would be entered to win the basket after doing so.

Kiser says the mobile library, which runs three days of the week, is intended for folks like Spurlin and for children whose parents may not be able to drive them to the main library.

The bookmobile gets “quite a bit of usage,” she said, with a circulation “about 400 times more than the circulation at our Carver Branch Library.”

According to Levens, 151 people checked books out from the van in October, after some stops were dropped.

“We don’t want to cut anybody,” Kiser said, but there are costs involved with sending the van out, which she characterized as the library’s county outreach.

One cost would be fuel — according to Levens, the bookmobile burns half a gallon of diesel per hour idling. It gets 7 miles to the gallon driving.

Over the next year, the library will receive $107,065 in monthly payments from the Calhoun County Commission, according to assistant county administrator Melissia Wood.

The library received $112,700 in fiscal 2015, Wood said, equating to a decrease of $5,635 in funding this year — about $469 less each month.

“When the county cuts us, it only seems appropriate that we cut county individuals,” Kiser said. The library also receives an appropriation from Anniston, which has remained level this year at $550,000.

Some Calhoun County commissioners, reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, said the library cut was nothing personal — all the agencies that depend upon an appropriation from the county will receive 5 percent less this year.

“I’d love to keep funding that,” District 2 commissioner Tim Hodges said of the Bookmobile, “but I can’t hang one over the other. The only equitable way to do it is across the board.”

Both Hodges and District 4 commissioner J.D. Hess said they wanted more information on county residents’ usage of the service, and blamed cuts to county support on flagging tax revenue.

“I don’t know what else we can do, unless the people want to raise taxes,” said Lee Patterson, District 5 commissioner. “Nobody wants to do that.”

Staff writer Zach Tyler: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @ZTyler_Star.