an open letter to DeKalb County Georgia public libraries

{As part of my #yearofexploration I decided to stop protesting the $45 fee I must pay to use the library up the street from me. Having two library systems will be much more convenient for the many expeditions I hope to helm this year. Here is what happened when I tried to renew and asked a question...}

An Open Letter to the DeKalbCounty Public Libraries in DeKalb County, Georgia:

April 3, 2015

Dear Library Board and Director Weissinger:

Yesterday at 3:00pm, I went to the Reid H. Cofer/Tucker branch of the DeKalb County Library with the intention of paying the annual $45 and renewing my non-resident library card. I want to tell you about my reception at the circulation desk.

I live in Tucker, Georgia -- in the same town as this library and less than one mile from this branch -- but in Gwinnett County. I moved here in 2004 from the Washington, D.C. area and immediately got a library card at the old Cofer branch in Tucker.

At the time it stuck in my craw that I had to pay $45 for library privileges because of a county line. The DeKalb County school bus picks up students just four houses up the street from me, on Ginson Drive. In protest, I refused to pay after my first year with DeKalb. I also had a card in the Gwinnett County Library System, and from 2005 on, I used only that system. The closest branch is seven miles from my house.

I love the Gwinnett County Public Library system. But DeKalb is a walk away from my house and much more convenient, and for a working writer, using both branches is ideal. So I broke through my resistance this week, and I walked to the desk at the Tucker library and presented my old card and asked to renew it.

I want you to know that the two librarians behind the circulation desk could have cared less about my request and were entirely unhelpful. There was no line waiting and there were no other patrons nearby. I was told that I needed a check or cash in order to renew -- I had a credit card. That was fine. I would go back home and get a check, I told them.

When I asked who I might write to, to officially protest the fact that I live in Tucker and cannot use the Tucker library, both librarians shrugged. "The tax office?" one of them said. The other nodded, "It's a tax issue."

"Could you help me figure out who it would be?" I asked. They shrugged. "It would be Gwinnett County," they agreed.

"I'm going to go home and get a check -- I live less than a mile away... would you mind helping me look this up or tell me who to ask?" Yes, they would very much mind.

"Isn't this what librarians do?" I asked. They shrugged. "Well, it's what librarians used to do!" I said. And I stalked out the door, frustrated and suddenly angry.

What DO your librarians in DeKalb County do? Is there some reason they no longer help patrons -- former, present and future -- with research questions or requests? Can they not direct them to help? Is morale so low in DeKalb County or training so ineffective, or apathy so rampant that there is no hope?

Throughout my life I have never been far from a library. Libraries have actually saved my life -- another story for another day. They have been an essential part of my life and my work and my play. You have a stunningly beautiful library in Tucker. It's a shame it is filled with librarians who don't understand customer service or the idea of what help really means. It's a shame I cannot use your library without paying a $45 fee every year -- a fee I was willing to pay and walked in ready to pay.

Gwinnett branches are farther away from me, but the librarians at my branch know me and welcome me and research with me and laugh with me and hold books for me and for my four-year-old granddaughter when I bring her (she lives in DeKalb County!), and they help her fill her book basket with stories.

I feel welcomed in Gwinnett and I will continue to be a proud patron. I looked forward to building similar relationships in DeKalb County. I can see, it's not the same kind of inviting, caring, helpful place. Too bad, not only for me and mine, but for the many citizens you serve.

Deborah Wiles
Tucker, GA


  1. Deborah, I want to personally apologize to you on behalf of librarians everywhere. I am sure I am not the only librarian to cringe upon reading this! The people you encountered certainly did NOT represent the ideals of public libraries. I am grateful, though, that you took the time to write and post this, because public libraries need concerned citizens to keep them living up to their ideals.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I know the annual fee is a property tax issue, and I had made my peace with paying it, but I've been wanting to protest it in writing for years. It seemed like a good time to ask -- I hadn't had the thought to ask until I stood at the desk -- and I was so surprised at the lack of willingness to help me look up who I might write to... I know it's Gwinnett and DeKalb County tax offices, etc... it wasn't that. It was the apathy. Wow, I was stunned. Thanks for responding.

  2. I am very sorry to hear of your recent experience with some DeKalb County librarians (or library "technicians"). My wife is a retired librarian so I am keenly aware of the service good librarians perform.

    I can offer support by saying that this problem is not universal. I am a volunteer tax preparer for AARP and most of our tax preparation sites are libraries. For five years, I have worked at Chamblee Library and Dunwoody Library (both DeKalb County) and Kirkwood Library (Atlanta-Fulton County) and I have observed that the librarians at all three were quite helpful to patrons. Yes, it's true that a few workers were not as personable as they could be but they still seemed to get the job done in an efficient way. I know they answered many questions in person and over the phone regarding our tax program even though this was not their responsibility.

    So, I hope your experiences at the Tucker branch improve. Best wishes.

    1. Hi there and thanks. I've paid my yearly fee (as a donation, since they waived the fee, and I want to pay, like my neighbors do), and I'm using the library extensively. I appreciate your thoughts. It's not about being personable. It's about doing the job. I don't know what the problem was on that day, but I've not encountered it since. It's all good at the Tucker branch, and I'm there quite a bit now. Thanks.


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