Group petitions to protect libraries

Nearly 26K signatures needed to get funding choice on ballot

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Save Our Public Libraries is collecting signatures for a petition to make protecting libraries a choice when Duval County voters go to vote next.

The group says it's going to do anything it can to protect local libraries because it says they are so important for the future.

"As for me, I think I would have died when I was about 12 and injured if there had not been books for me to hang onto," volunteer Mary Lou Southerlin said.

Southerlin was in a bad accident as a child and says library books were her outlet as she sat in a hospital bed.

"Libraries are important," she said. "They're important to the children, they're important to the older folks."

Southerlin was one of the Save Our Public Libraries volunteers who brought petitions in by the box load at the Supervisor of Elections Office on Tuesday.

There were 2,500 more signatures from people supporting the cause. The petitions ask for voters to have the choice to see on the next election ballot whether or not they can establish an independent funding district for public libraries. The group says it wouldn't raise taxes but would just make sure the money already collected doesn't go to pay for other things.

"It's simply taking monies that are already appropriated to the city through our taxes and separating library funds so that they cannot be touched for other purposes so the libraries will be safe," volunteer Elizabeth Breting said.

So far, the group, which has been collecting signatures all across the county, has had nearly 18,000 of its petitions verified by the Supervisor of Elections. Tuesday's 2,500 more will make them closer to the 25,931 signatures needed by January to get the choice on the ballot.

Volunteers say saving the libraries should be a top priority, even in tough budgetary times, and they think locals agree.

"I would say that 99 percent of the people we meet say, 'We know what this is about. We want to sign. We're with you,'" said John Hall, of Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library.

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