They heard you

Support helped state hear need to keep Talking Books center here

Augusta Library patrons will like the sound of this: The Talking Book Center here will remain open for the foreseeable future.

But keeping it open will require the same thing it took to prevent its closing: broad and vocal community support.

The center, which provides talking books to visually and physically impaired readers through the Library of Congress and the state's library system, was on the road to closing as a cost-saving move by the state. That is, until the state librarian recognized recently how much community support there is here for the invaluable service.

In a series of regional meetings earlier this year to discuss closing up to half of the state's 12 Talking Book Centers, Augusta had the second-highest turnout and the highest percentage of patrons involved, according to library director Gary Swint.

In addition, the state heard from the Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, as well as area legislators. Two of them -- House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin and Sen. Hardie Davis -- went to the trouble of attending a meeting on the issue with a state official here recently.

Rep. Barbara Sims of Augusta, and others, also worked hard behind the scenes to keep the center open.

It only makes sense. The Augusta center, which was the first in the state outside of Atlanta, has the largest collection of talking books outside Atlanta and, Swint argues, a collection that's in great condition relative to others'.

The center here also does more than provide personalized service for some 1,500 impaired readers; it's also a referral spot for services the visually and physically disabled community may need.

All with just two full-timers and one part-timer on staff.

If the state is looking to achieve more efficiency than that, it might start in Atlanta and work outward; better to cut administrative services than reader services. And if the state wants to consolidate books in a single distribution center, which is a fine idea, it might shop around the state for the best warehouse prices rather than assuming it belongs in Atlanta.

The Georgia Assembly may want to encourage an audit of the system, in order to produce the most efficiencies with the least impact on readers.

We would encourage the state to look under every other rock before looking at closing Augusta's Talking Book Center -- and patrons to be ready if the state ever does come calling again.

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