Friday, December 11, 2015

TOP STORY >> Last story time in Ward

Leader staff writer

The final chapter of the Ward Public Library is rapidly approaching. The library will permanently close on Dec. 31.

Its books and materials will be absorbed into the other libraries of the Lonoke County Regional Library System. The Ward Library opened in 1999.

The last children’s story time will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22.

A trio of 12th-grade Cabot High School band musicians — Haley Lawrence, Brianna Watson and Justin Pouge —will play a woodwind arrangement of Christmas songs. After a reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” cookies and hot chocolate will be served. All ages are welcomed.

The Lonoke/Prairie County Regional Library System lost $35,000 this year when legislators balanced the state budget by cutting $1 million in aid to Arkansas libraries. The regional system has operated on the same $1 million budget for 20 years, even as costs have increased.

“People are really shocked. There is still no justification for closing the library,” Ward Library director Venessa Ford said.

The Ward Library has stopped interloan checkouts with other libraries. But its patrons can go to another library in the Lonoke County Library System to check out items.

“It’s sad that Ann Watson (library assistant) and I are losing our jobs. But it is more sad that people around here won’t have a local library to come to. The kids at Ward Central Elementary are going to lose out. Not everybody has the luxury to pack up their vehicle and drive to the library. Some people walk to the library from the apartments, the trailer park and the nearby subdivision,” Ford said.

Lonoke County Regional Library board president Adam Simon told The Leader on Tuesday that there was not enough assistance monetarily to save the Ward Library.

“It was not cost effective for the taxpayers of Lonoke County to keep it open. It costs around $100,000 annually for the staff, services and resources needed. With no personnel, it would cost $50,000,” Simon said.

Simon said the Lonoke County Regional Library System has found since the $2.6 million Cabot Public Library opened in August, more patrons from Ward are using the Cabot library than the Ward library. Closing the library it not a big burden.

“The Cabot branch can handle the circulation of the Ward library,” Simon said.

On the Ward Public Library’s Facebook page Courtney Barnes wrote, “Sad it had to close. Shame it couldn’t have been saved.”

Julie Tolman posted, “I am upset that it is closing. We have special memories there.”

Ward City Mayor Art Brooke said previously he was told that it costs $62,000 a year to run the Ward Library with $17,000 of that coming from the city’s budget.

The city maintains the building, covers the insurance premiums and pays the utility bills.

The Cabot Public Library holds an after school program for children from 4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and story times at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The Goff Public Library in Beebe holds children’s programs on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Afterschool programs are held Wednesdays at 3:45 p.m.