I-TEAM UPDATE: Augusta library limited on funding

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

News 12 at 11/NBC at 7
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It is said "Google can bring you back a hundred thousand answers. But a librarian can bring you back the right one.'

In an age of fake news-- separating fact from fiction has never been more important-- and our public libraries give even the most underprivileged the tools to do that

But senior investigative reporter Liz Owens found it's becoming more difficult here in Augusta.

There is a book on the shelf here titled "Lean Library Management."

It came out about seven years ago, around the same time the director of this library began feeling the pressure of the budget.

"perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest."
-lady bird johnson

The Augusta Richmond County Library dates back to the founding of Augusta more than two centuries ago. As time passed the building changed and so did the medium for information.

"Well I get movies from here," said Raykan McBride.

Nine-year-old Raykan McBride and his brothers check out books too and use the computers to log their library hours for school.

"You get library minutes and you get to have fun Friday and you get recess," said McBride.

Raykan is one of the 80,000 registered users of the Augusta Richmond County Public Library System. With six branches this is no longer a small town library.

"I love libraries I’ve been going into libraries since early grades," said Mashell Fashion, the director.

We are downtown at headquarters.

"My biggest challenge is our budget in trying to sustain this building," said Mashell.

Mashell fashion's job title is director.

"I can’t let it me ruin me or I won't be able to sleep at night,” said Mashell.

These days it should miracle worker.

“So my thing is figure out how to make it work and do it," said Mashell.

Eight years ago the library moved from there across the street to this new building but what didn't move was the budget.

The country provides the majority of the funding for the library system. Commissioners have only increased funding by 39-thousand dollars over the last nine years.

The new building is nearly three times the size of the old one. We compared the budget from 2009 to 2018 and factored in the cost to operate both per square foot. In 2009- the library received $69.40 per square foot. This year- it's $25.96.

How heartbreaking will it be to see the quality of the library drop?

"Well it has already done that," said Mashell.

She reduced opening hours, staffing, and security.

"We used to have a cleaning company once upon a time we could no longer afford that," said Mashell.

Fashion asked commissioners for a 13% increase in funding this November.

They approved half.

What is going to happen if you don't get an increase?

"We will continue to function in the capacity that we are," said Mashell.

As Augusta continues to grow, so will the need to freely access information.

The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library- Albert Einstein.

Cutting libraries a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague - Eleanor Crumblehulme

The author of this book advices library directors to focus on the biggest needs of the community and to cut out the rest. Our community needs children’s summer programs and it is a big focus here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The public library is opened to everyone. Our I-Team found reports of men masturbating, having sex and viewing porn while children are left unattended in the library.

Some people believe the public library is the foundation of democracy because anyone can freely access the information stored there. No one is turned away.

We met Terrence outside of the downtown library. He and the others were waiting on it to open.

Terrence: "I just come in like I am now. In and out."
Liz Owens: "So you see a lot of homeless people in there?"
Terrence: "Yeah there are homeless people in there. They're all upstairs. For the most part, people go in and be quiet and they never get kicked out they just want a warm place to a place to stay."

Terrence himself is homeless. He walked to the library from Garden City Rescue Mission. Others outside also told Liz Owens that they came from nearby shelters. There are four overnight shelters less than a mile from the library. There are no day shelters downtown which means the homeless need somewhere to go during the day. For many that place is the downtown library.

"We are in the downtown area this is probably one of the closest places that folks are able to walk if they're actually living in a shelter and we are it," Mashell Fashion said.. She spent a career upholding the core values of the American Library Association which is providing all library users access to information. "We cannot discriminate against anyone who is coming into this building we are here to serve the general public and they're part of the general public," she said.

"When you first walk in you'll see a set of chairs. Most of the people right there are homeless. Most of all the people sitting at the computer are homeless. Go on the second floor and they're homeless. Way in the back where the T.V. is at they're homeless," Terrence told Liz Owens. Most spend their day reading or surfing the net. Others, well....

Liz Owens: "There have been a couple of incidents in the library that I know I wouldn't want my child exposed to. I wouldn't want to be exposed to it. Is that a problem here?"
Mashell Fashion: "I don't think it has been at least not during my tenure."

The I-Team got a hold of all of the incident reports at the downtown library over the last four years. We found where some patrons are displaying inappropriate sexual behavior there. Reports show where men have exposed themselves, masturbated, had sex in the bathroom, and looked at pornography on the computers.

Liz Owens: "As a parent that would concern me bringing my child here. Should parents be worried?"
Mashell Fashion: "Well that's why we have a separate section for the children so that they aren't where the adults are."

Staff caught a man with his hands down his pants in the young adult section just this May. In August, someone found graphic business cards left in the children's section.

The library has an unattended child and child safety policy. There are also signs posted warning parents not to leave their child alone but our I-Team found not everyone follows the policy. According to library security, parents have dropped their children off and left them there, sometimes for hours, at least five times this year. The child would have to be under the age of nine for it to violate library policy.

Liz Owens: "Is there some concern about unattended children being around some of the adults who come through here?"
Mashell Fashion: "The good thing is our staff is very alert at what's going on."

The library pays the Marshals office $15,000 a year to provide security. It's a drastic cut from the $40,0000 budgeted for security in 2009.

Liz Owens: "What is your biggest challenge right now?"
Mashell Fashion: "My biggest challenge is our budget in trying to sustain this building."

Terrence's biggest challenge is trying to find a home and a job. "I just got to get back it. It won't take me but a minute because I know me," he says. On the day, our I-Team met him, he told said he came to the library to look for a job. He hopes to write a new chapter in a place full of stories a lot like his own.

Augusta-Richmond County Library System budget has been at a standstill for eight years. It's impacted staffing and even opening hours at the different branches. On Thursday, our I-Team will show you why it's happening.