Originally published in the DeFuniak Springs Herald, Sept. 13, 2007.
Milton fights to save library
By CHRIS MANSON
Last week the cash register was removed from the Gladys N. Milton branch of the Walton County Library System. No new books have arrived here since August. The air conditioner hasn't worked for almost a month, although a few strategically placed fans provide a temporary solution. The propped-open door to the Flowersview Community Center has attracted a small army of what librarian Maria Milton identifies as love bugs. For Milton--the daughter of the celebrated midwife for whom the library is named--closing seems inevitable.
Walton County Citizen Services Division Director Ken Little said the state legislature mandated that $5.6 million be cut from the 2008 budget. He added that the Milton library accounted for just one percent of the county's library usage in 2006. "We have a brand new bookmobile that can service that area," Little said.
Milton said the entire north end of Walton County would be impacted if the Walton Country Board of County Commissioners (BCC) votes to close the library. The Milton library services Paxton along with unincorporated rural communities like Flowersview, Glendale, and Mossy Head. Milton said the library also provides Internet access for many low-income residents. "It's a big thing lately. The offices where people apply for food stamps want you to do that online now. Also, some students with transportation problems are using the online schools."
When Milton first suspected the library might be closing, she called District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen. "They said we don't have to worry," Milton said. "But I'm very worried we're going to close. This may seem like a small decision to them, but it has a big effect on the people who come to the library."
If the budget is approved at the Sep. 24 hearing, the library would cease to operate on Oct. 1. That's why Milton is urging all residents of the north end of the county to get involved. She has posted flyers in the library and at the nearby corner store encouraging patrons to call Commissioner Pridgen's office prior to Sep. 18.
"Before she died, my mother tried to get this library opened," said Milton. "She didn't live to see it open, but she knew the importance of education. She devoted a lot of her life to helping people. She realized a library was definitely something a lot of underprivileged people needed," said Milton.
Milton said the library's circulation has increased significantly since she began working here last June. "But you can go into Paxton and find 10 people who don't know the library is here and don't know about the services we provide." The library has offered computer classes and Spanish language classes in the past and has audiobooks and DVD movies available for checkout.
"They are not even spending four percent of their budget on this library," Milton said. "It's almost like a double standard here. This is a matter of 'we can shut them down because their vote doesn't matter.' That's the attitude they're giving. But the community has made an effort. People are coming in and asking what they can do to help.
"If we can at least bring it to the commission's attention that this library is important to the entire north end of the county, I won't give up hope."
(More articles at www.defuniakherald.com)