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Chatham terminates bookmobile services

By Jim Brooking
Posted Saturday, July 10, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - I have not seen any notices posted about the termination of Bookmobile services. I first got wind of this early in June, and saw in a flyer handed out at the Bookmobile on Wednesday, June 29, that June 30 would be its last day of service.

Apparently the coup de grace was administered sometime after the Commissioners' June 3 meeting. There was an extended discussion of bookmobile services and patronage at this meeting (minutes can be seen here on page 16), including information I believe to be untrue, namely that the "the Chatham County vehicle had declined since the 1970s". I understand the current vehicle was purchased in 2002. As a diesel-powered vehicle, I would think it has many years of useful life to give.

A number of avid readers and enthusiastic patrons of the bookmobile are disappointed and disconcerted that a decision to terminate this service was made without wider discussion and community input. Comments in the linked minutes above from the Commissioners and indeed from the Library Director seem to indicate unfamiliarity with the bookmobile's attraction, the community it serves, and the prospects of replacing bookmobile services by the new Chatham Community Library when (or if) it opens in September.

The economies of retiring the Bookmobile may or may not be attractive from a budgetary standpoint. However, let me ask about the wisdom of requiring having dozens of individuals drive their vehicles weekly on a 20-30 mile round trip from North Chatham to the new library (after it opens) vs. a single vehicle driving a round trip from its home base to north Chatham once a week. Yes, the county saves some diesel fuel costs, but the rest of us incur higher fuel costs and contribute more air pollutants and incur the per-mile costs for driving everywhere.

The speed and stealth, if I may use the word, with which this cancellation of a valuable service was executed seems more consistent with the Bunkey Morgan regime than with the "open, deliberative, green" policies promised us as voters when the Chatham Coalition was seeking our votes.

Two points I would like to have seen addressed, but have not as yet: What alternatives were considered? A fee for a library card? Discount on fuel, or biofuel donation? Advance notice to individual and organizational patrons, with perhaps a suggestion of what sort of fees we might cough up to keep the Bookmobile running?

Current patrons, left in the lurch until the promised September opening of the new library, have one option in Chatham County: the Pittsboro Memorial Library, with its meager supply of old books in poor condition. Or of course, we could also add 40 miles to the round trip and drive to Siler City, Or Goldston to one of the two remaining library branches. What was the urgent financial crisis that mandated the termination of the Bookmobile two to three months (if one is optimistic about the opening of the new library) before ANY viable alternative is available. Some of us will, I am certain, be checking on the Chapel Hill Public Library, despite its $60 a year non-resident fee. I am confident that most of us would rather pay that fee to Chatham County to get our bookmobile back, but that option was not made available.

Meanwhile, for anyone who would like to put in a word to the Commissioners regarding the Bookmobile's termination, their contact information (emails and phones) is located on the Chatham County website.

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