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'It's heartbreaking'

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

A Brookport, Ill., landmark that a group of residents have fought over the last decade to sustain could be forced to close its doors as early as this summer.

The local library opened more than 20 years ago in an unused school building without heat or water leased for $1 per year, then outgrew an additional building on East Third Street before finding its current location at 7415 S. U.S. 45, according to chairman and former Brookport mayor Judy Askew. She said after returning to the area, she along with a group of friends saw the need for a library, specifically for school-age children.

"The community really rallied behind the library. People that move away still remember us," she said.

The group that incorporated to become the Brookport Betterment Committee Inc. gathered the collection of 20,000 works through book drives and monetary donations. The group was able to purchase 30 used bookshelves at a discounted rate from the McCracken County Public Library and secured a $500 grant for the first computer.

After receiving several large monetary grants in 2002, the group was able to purchase the current facility in the Hohman Building at the intersection of U.S. 45 and Seventh Street. But the expanded space brought additional bills for insurance, utilities, supplies and Internet service, which increased from $200 to more than $500 monthly.

About five years ago, a member of the Brookport Betterment Committee left the library money in his will that amounted to $18,000. The library, which is 100 percent volunteer-based, has remained open due to those funds but the money is quickly running out, Askew said.

The group currently has about $4,000 of that total left, which will sustain the building costs only until the summer if donations are not raised. The library was also affected by the November tornado that ripped through the local area, with about $5,000 in damage to four front windows and the roof. Although the group has insurance, a $1,000 deductible has to be paid, she said.

"After all this effort, it's heartbreaking to think about closing the doors," Askew said. "This place is such a resource for our kids as a safe place to come after school."

Askew said the group is looking for sustained donors who can commit to a small amount, such as 60 people giving $10 per month or 600 people giving $1 monthly, for the next two years. The group held a Million Member Drive about 10 years ago that raised $2,000 from donors, who each mailed $1 for a library card, in 35 states and seven countries. The group hopes after two years, the local area will have time to recover and the city government can take over the facility.

She said the library provides countless resources to the local area, including summer and accelerated reader programs, Internet access and Wi-Fi at no cost. It was the site of the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center until its closure last week. The literary center charges only $1 annually for a library membership due to the high local poverty rate seen, as 75 percent of school children are on free and reduced lunches.

"The reason we aren't supported by the state of Illinois is because they would set our fees," Askew said. "We wanted to provide our services to everyone in this community."

Volunteer and committee member Ann Douglass said the process has been a long and tough haul to compete with libraries who have an influx of funding to provide software and book-exchange programs.

"It's a great place for kids to go," Douglass said. "There are so many wonderful aspects, like story hours. Life happens and people get disinterested, but there is a need in this community for children to have access to books."

The Brookport library is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 3-6 p.m. The group is looking for two additional volunteers who could give three hours of their time one day a week in order to open on Tuesday afternoons. To give time or money, call the library at 618-564-3630 or drop off a donation during open hours.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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