By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
Here is a joke from Andy Newby, who on Friday was sitting in the floor of the Dade County Library’s permanent building on the town square, putting finishing touches on the carpentry and complaining about the government.
“In this government program they had a director and a super and a foreman and one employee,” said Newby, who said he’d be 78 if he lived until Monday. “Well, they cut the budget and you know who lost their job?”
Debra Bradford laughed politely. The man meant well.
But this was a bittersweet occasion. After months of delays, skirmishes with its underperforming original contractor, and a legal battle with its insurer, the library was at last ready to move back into the expanded and renovated building it had vacated in October 2010. Grand opening was scheduled for Aug. 14, and Ms. Bradford was conducting the grand tour –
– on her last day at work. Just shy of her 20-year anniversary with the library, Ms. Bradford had been laid off. The Sentinel had arrived to request a tour just after fellow staffers Marshana Sharp and April Tinker had presented her with a goodbye cake and a bouquet of beautiful peace roses.
But even for a farewell bash, it was a somber party. The disaster that had cost Ms. Bradford her job – changes to employer-paid health insurance premiums at the state level that made it impossible for the already strapped library to maintain even its skeleton crew of three – had meant other changes for the worse. After today, the library would close Mondays and Fridays, and hours for the other employees would also be cut.
So Ms. Bradford didn’t mind getting out for a bit – quarters can, anyway, get a bit close in the 1,000-square-foot storefront that houses the library pending the completion of its permanent home – and in short order she was showing the Sentinel through the spacious, freshly-painted facility.
“This is where I would have worked,” she said, pointing to an office space behind the sweeping new circulation desk. “That is where my desk would be.”
Ms. Bradford did not take health insurance – though she was full-time, she was insured through her husband – but as she understands it, such are the new rules that that didn’t matter. The only way the library could keep her on payroll was to strip her of all benefits and bust her to 17 hours a week. Ms. Bradford said she’d rather be laid off.
“You don’t want to go back to where you started after 20 years,” she said, “working the late evenings and every Saturday.”
Ms. Bradford started at Dade Public on Sept. 22, 1992, under the famously peppery management of the late Juanita “Pug” Presley. She was a big reader and had always wanted to work at a library. “I love books. I like knowledge,” she said. “When I read books as a child I carried a dictionary around with me and if I didn’t know a word I looked it up.”
So she stayed happily on, and when Ms. Presley retired some years later and her assistant, Glenda Winans, took over as manager, Ms. Bradford became assistant manager. Then, when Ms. Winans became ill and took an extended leave of absence for treatment, Ms. Bradford took over as interim manager.
So Andy Newby’s joke was not quite on the money. Ms. Bradford had not been on the bottom of the totem pole for years now. When Ms. Winans’ health obliged her to leave altogether, in fact, Ms. Bradford found herself kicked upstairs to permanent manager whether she liked it or not.
She liked it not. “I’m not a manager and I never really wanted to be,” said Ms. Bradford. Managers had reports to write and books to order. One day she was helping a patron in the genealogy section and realized how much she yearned for her old job back. “I told Lecia. [Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library], ‘I miss that. I miss helping people find things,’” she said.
So Ms. Bradford cheerfully descended the totem pole to become assistant manager under Gayla Brewer, the state-employed librarian who managed Dade’s facility until, last spring, Georgia eliminated her position, and now under present manager Marshana Sharp.
But back to the tour: The library renovation, paid for through a combination of federal, state and county funds assembled during happier times, has taken Dade’s permanent library building from its original 8,000 square feet to 12,000, maximizing the existing space and creating more by expanding into the back parking lot.
The expanded facility now has a festively-decorated children’s storybook room, a teen space with trendy retro lampshades, an airy community meeting room with its own kitchenette, and dedicated genealogy and computer rooms.
At least for those who have issues with indoor geography, it’s difficult to see where the old library stops and the new part begins, but one attractive design feature helps: in some places, the original outdoor brickwork also serves as interior walls.
The expansion didn’t leave a lot of room out back but Ms. Bradford loves the railed ledge that now looms over what’s left of the parking lot. When the weather is nicer, she said, it would be nice to park a chair out there and spend breaks enjoying the air.
Staff members were given some say in the design, said Ms. Bradford. “That’s my red wall,” she said, pointing it out. “I lobbied for the red wall. They liked purple.”
For the Sentinel, it was sad walking through the library with the employee who will never get to enjoy her red wall, and Ms. Bradford admits it’s sad to walk away, too, from the work and the books and most of all the people who frequent the library. “They get to be your family,” she said. “I think that’s one of the things that I’m going to miss the most.”
Ms. Bradford is resigned to the layoff and says she’ll spend the immediate future indulging her hobby of “cemetery business” – her love for graveyard-walking, tombstone-reading and even the occasional cemetery-napping has led the Sentinel to accuse her of vampirism more than once. But she stresses she’s laid off, not terminated, and hopes to return to work if funding materializes.
That seems unlikely given recent developments: Last week, Dade Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin told the library board of directors he would recommend not reducing but eliminating all library funding from the Board of Education, which throughout the library’s existence has shared fiscal responsibility for it with the Dade County and Trenton city governments. The school board has not yet voted to finalize that cut, but if it does, library administration worries it’s not one the library can survive.
So if Ms. Bradford will not be there to enjoy the beautiful new library she and her coworkers waited so long to occupy, it now seems increasingly likely that neither may anybody else – including the citizens of Dade County.