Barbecue and brainstorming are on the agenda tonight for Dade County, Ga., library supporters.
Dade's Friends of the Library group has invited 40 city, county and school officials to a 6 p.m. dinner at the newly refurbished library in downtown Trenton.
After eating baked potatoes topped with barbecue catered by nearby Thatcher's Barbeque and Grille, participants will break into three groups to answer two main questions, said Friends of the Library President Donna M. Street.
"How do we fund the library for the long term?" she asked. "And how can the library be of support to the community."
"We want ideas," Street said. "Even bad ideas are better than no ideas."
Funding has been a struggle for the Cherokee Regional Library system, which has branches in Trenton, LaFayette, Chickamauga and Rossville. A sharp increase in health insurance premiums charged by the state meant the library system has had to cut service hours for patrons and work time for employees.
The Dade County Library is open 30 hours a week.
"We're not unhappy with 30 hours," Street said. "We just want to be able to maintain it."
Street said she's mentioned tonight's brainstorming session during public meetings of the school board, city council and county commission, and invited reporters -- but it's not open to the public, she said.
County Executive Ted Rumley plans to attend, though he said the meeting would be public if a quorum of county commissioners comes.
"I'll guess we'll advertise it on the board, in case three [commissioners] show up," Rumley said Wednesday.
County government is getting its budgeting under way, Rumley said, so he doesn't know how much library funding it will provide. But Rumley expects it'll be close to last year's $68,000.
"We're not looking at a tax increase, that's for sure," Rumley said.
The Dade County Board of Education reduced its library funding to zero last year.
School Superintendent Shawn Tobin is at conference in Athens, Ga., that lasts through today and said Wednesday he doesn't plan to attend the dinner.
Funding libraries is the responsibility of cities and counties, Tobin said. The school district will need to continue to cut spending, he said, as its budget shrinks.
Library system Director Lecia Eubanks thinks it's a good idea for the Friends of the Library to sit down with local elected officials to brainstorm.
"I think that really are just trying to bring it home," Eubanks said. "I think it's a really nice approach."
Dade County's library isn't alone in having problems, Street said.
"It's a national problem," she said.
Type the word "library" into Google images search, Street said, and photos of "save our library" and "help our library" signs pop up.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.