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Closing of a library is like death in family

As we age, checking the obituary page becomes a daily rite for many. I read recently in an out-of-state newspaper about the pending demise of an old friend.
The old friend is the branch library in Seneca, a small community on the Oklahoma state line in Southwest Missouri. The Newton County Library Board voted recently to close the branch, citing savings of $67,000 annually.
Community leaders are rallying to reverse the decision and launched a petition drive to keep the library open. “Just like everyone else in (Seneca), our mouths are hanging open,” Mayor Mark Bennett told the Joplin Globe. “Everyone is speechless.”
Missouri has long been a Republican state and you can’t get any more conservative than the folks in Southwest Missouri. They have suspected the Tea Party members of being too soft on tax proposals.

Earlier this year, the Globe reported, Newton County voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 15-cent levy increase that would have raised nearly $7 million annually for the Neosho-Newton County Library system. That “tax hike” — two words in some minds is akin to cursing in church — was pledged to expand the Neosho library and pay for deferred maintenance.

The current 10-cent levy had not been increased for 17 years, the Globe observed. The proposal was rejected countywide by a 1,687-940 vote margin. The vote in Seneca was 175 against, with 30 in favor, the Globe said.

After the July vote failed, board members said they would have to take a “hard look” at the budget and cut some services. Real leaders would have acknowledged a ballot box loss was a real possibility.

The library’s closing goes beyond “just books.” I have had two ties to that library, so the closing hits home.

I lived across the state line in Oklahoma. Our small community didn’t have a library and the selection available on the bookmobile when it reached us was not great. I snuck over the border and used the Seneca library because my brother owned a business in the community and paid taxes there.
A library provides books and I view the buildings and contents with reverence.
My other tie to the library was more personal. I had saved every dime I could earn for two summers to buy a car and had amassed an impressive fortune for a 16-year-old. I had dream of a cherry red 1958 Chevrolet with a four-speed chrome shifter in the floor.
The money was entrusted to my brother, the master mechanic. He was going to find “the right car” for me. I was visiting aunts and uncles out-of-state for two weeks when he called to say he had located my car.
I left the relatives early and headed back to the farm. There, under a big tarp in a barn was my first car, a 1952 Pontiac four-door with zilch sex appeal. What happened? I asked. This was not my dream car.
The master mechanic said the car had been owned by the Seneca librarian, who kept it garaged at her home less than a block from the library. She drove it twice a week to buy groceries and to go to church; it had low mileage and was in perfect mechanical shape.
It proved to be one of the best cars I ever owned.
I may contact the Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce and learn how I can sign the petition to help save the library. Books and a great car are a debt owed.
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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.