SENECA, Mo. —
Just days after Newton County Library Board members voted to close the Seneca library branch on Nov. 1, community leaders are rallying to reverse the decision.
“We’re starting a petition to keep the library here in Seneca,” said John Dodson, Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce president. “Anybody in the county can sign it.”
News of the closing, he said, “has been a major shocker for the entire community.”
Dodson said he plans to speak to the board during its next regular monthly meeting in October and will present the petition in hopes of reversing the board’s decision. Board members voted Tuesday to close the branch library, citing fiscal constraints.
“Just like everyone else in (Seneca), our mouths are hanging open,” said Seneca Mayor Mark Bennett. “Everyone is speechless.”
Earlier this year, 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 money would have been used to expand the Neosho library and pay for deferred maintenance, including roof repairs and repairs to a leaky sewage line in Neosho.
The current 10-cent levy had not been increased in 17 years.
The proposal was rejected with 1,687 “no” votes to 940 “yes” votes. The vote in Seneca was 175 against, with 30 in favor.
When the July vote failed, board members said they would have to take a hard look at the budget and cut some services.
Keri Collinsworth, president of the library board, said closing the Seneca branch will save $67,000 annually.
Ginny Ray, director of the county library system, said she was “depressed” by last week's decision, though she added that it's a harsh reality for many community libraries.
Ray said it's too early to detail how much equipment — books, computers, furniture, etc. — will be shipped back to the main Neosho library, at 201 W. Spring St., or what will stay in Seneca.
“Some things there have a local historic value that we would want to remain in the community,” she said, though no specifics were given. “Right now it's just too early to say.”
Mitzi Thurman, branch manager for the Seneca Public Library, 1216 Cherokee Ave., said the impact of the library's closing would go far “beyond just books.”
“It would be a huge loss for the city and area,” Thurman said. “Because we're on the border with Oklahoma and we have people from the (Wyandotte/Fairland) area and even from McDonald County who use us. People depend on our computers for hunting jobs and things like that. With the way gas (prices) are, it's too far for some to go all the way to Neosho.”
Besides providing books and free Internet service, the library also operates a popular story time for children and various summer reading programs.
Last month, 2,600 books were checked out from the library.
“It's very sad for the town of Seneca,” Thurman said.
Seneca city leaders said they hope the board's decision can be rescinded, or at least postponed for a year “so we can all come together and figure out a way to save it.”
“We just need time to explore this,” Dodson said. “The city was not aware of this (beforehand). The chamber was not aware of this. It was just a wham-bam decision.
“Maybe we can set up a foundation. Maybe we can find donors. Maybe we can pass a city tax (to support it). We're going to try to do what we can.”
Collinsworth said she is open to any ideas.
“We just need other people to bring some kind of solution to the table,” she said.
John Dodson, Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce president, said a petition to save the Seneca library can be accessed either online or at http://www.senecamochamber.com.