State to stop funding Columbus Public Library services for visually, physically disabled

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Starting in July, visually or physically disabled patrons seeking services through the Columbus Public Library will be referred to Atlanta.

The decision is part of the state's cost-cutting efforts to consolidate those library services. Locally, this means the state won't continue to fund the combined $79,000 for the two staff members at the Columbus Library for Accessible Services (CLASS), which is a subset of the Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services (GLASS).

Alan Harkness, the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries director, said approximately 660 patrons from 11 counties in the Columbus area use CLASS, headquartered on the library's third floor. Those numbers make Columbus the second-smallest service area among the state's eight centers, he said. The locations will be reduced to as few as one, meaning only in Atlanta, or as many as three, but Columbus won't survive the cut, he added.

CLASS is part of a free national program that offers books and other reading material in audio format and in Braille to patrons with a visual or physical disability. Materials are sent to the borrowers and returned by postage-free mail.

Most of the patrons who use CLASS won't notice a difference, Harkness said, because they are served via phone or mail. But the walk-in folks won't have a staff member whose job is to solely serve them.

"We're going to continue to do that in some capacity," Harkness emphasized. "We have some equipment for the visually disabled on the third floor. We're going to move that so it's available seven days a week when we're open. We'll work on training other staff to understand how to operate that equipment, so they'll continue to get a level of service; it just won't be as personalized we've been able to provide in the past."

For example, the recording booth, donated by Country's Barbecue, will continue to be available, Harkness said.

"Since July 1, we've recorded over 2,000 pages of documents, and 300 person hours of volunteers have come in to make those recordings," he said. "Our webmaster also does the recordings on the side. … We'll continue to record items of local interest and history."

Another service for the disabled also still will be available: the BARD mobile app, on the library system's website, The Braille and Audio Reading Download allows books and magazines to be downloaded to a computer device.

Harkness laments the funding cut, noting that his mother uses GLASS , but he understands it.

"It's the state's service," he said. "It's there's to change as they see fit."

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