SENECA — The Newton County Library board voted Tuesday to close the library’s Seneca branch.
The board cited financial constraints as the cause for the closure.
Ginny Ray, director of the Neosho-Newton County Library, said the Seneca library is expected to shut its doors sometime this fall, and said her best guess for a closure date is early November.
Mitzi Thurman, Seneca library branch manager, said she is sad to see the library leave town.
“It provides a great public service to this town and area,” Thurman said.
Though the library board has decided to close the branch, Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce president Josh Dodson said that action will not come without a fight.
“We are definitely going to take an action of trying to keep this library in town,” Dodson said. “This is a library that is very useful for the city of Seneca.”
The library, located at 1216 Cherokee Ave. in downtown Seneca, has served the Seneca community for at least 50 years, Dodson said.
Mark Bennett, Seneca mayor, said several residents rely on the library for computer use and numerous other resources.
“It’s a major loss,” Bennett said. “Even though we live in the computer age, there are a lot of people who do not have computers at home for one reason or another, that rely on the Seneca library.”
Ray said library closures are not uncommon right now, as the costs associated with running a library continue to grow.
“This is happening all over the country,” Ray said. “We’re dealing with pretty flat revenue and our costs are increasing.”
Ray said those growing expenses include the costs of technology and materials.
Dodson said no matter the library board’s determination, whether they reverse their decision or not, the chamber will continue to seek out a way to keep a library in their town.
“It is our belief that we need to do what we can to try to keep that branch in existence,” Dodson said.
Patrons’ use of the Seneca library branch appears unchanged in the last year, based on the branch’s most recent circulation numbers.
Ray said 2,569 items were checked out from the Seneca branch last month, roughly the same as in August 2011.
She said the Seneca library had also recorded 327 computer uses for August.
“It’s always hard for a community, especially right now with a bad economy,” Ray said of the closure.
She said those who cannot afford a computer or Internet at home utilize the library’s computer resources to search or apply for jobs or to sign up for unemployment benefits. She also noted that many employers now require applicants to apply online.
Page 2 of 3 - Once the Seneca branch closes, residents would need to make the 16-mile drive to Neosho’s library to have access to the Newton County library’s resources.
Bennett said that is a drive some of his townspeople are unable to make.
“A lot of people can’t afford the commute,” Bennett said.
Dodson said Seneca residents were not given any previous warning about the impending closure, and that, so far, he has not heard of any options given to the city to maintain the library branch.
Dodson said in addition to the library’s computers, the branch also provides resources for students, summertime children’s reading programs, and much of the town’s historical documents.
“It’s going to be quite a hit,” Dodson said. “It’s something in the community that, losing it is like losing your right foot.”
As of Wednesday evening, Bennett said he did not know of any action being taken on behalf of the City of Seneca, though he has remained in contact with the chamber as they explore their options for keeping the branch alive.
“That’s just another little piece of our town that we don’t want to lose,” Bennett said.
The Neosho-Newton County Library released a statement on Wednesday announcing the closure of the branch.
“Any time a library closes, it is a serious loss for the community,” the statement read. “This was a difficult decision for the board.”
Ray said there are two employees, a branch manager and part-time employee, currently working at the Seneca library branch, and as of Wednesday evening, she was unsure what would happen to those employees’ positions.
She was also unsure of what would happen to the materials currently being housed at the Seneca library.
“We’ll have to go through everything,” Ray said. “In some cases, we’ll have to find a good location for that stuff.”
The Newton County Library Board has spoken of financial concerns before, though those concerns were in regards to the Neosho facility.
The board pursued a 14.5-cent increase to the Newton County library’s property tax levy in June, which was intended to add an additional 17,000 square feet to the Neosho location, as well as fund repairs to the Neosho branch. However, that issue failed, by a wide margin, with only 36 percent of voters casting their ballots in support of the issue.
At the time of the election, Ray cited several issues facing the Neosho library, including a leaky roof, inadequate space, and a broken sewer line.
Page 3 of 3 - The issue lost in nearly every precinct, including Seneca, where voters rejected the levy by a nearly 6-1 margin.
Seneca is the only Newton County town, besides Neosho, with a library location in their community.