COMMUNITY SPEAKS OUT ON WESTSIDE LIBRARY RELOCATION
By Jeremie Samuel
Many residents of Escambia County’s Brownsville neighborhood say relocating the Westside Branch Library, currently located on Cervantes Street, to the Legion Field Complex would be inconvenient. The Westside branch serves as a resource where many low-income individuals can utilize resources like computers and internet access.
Georgia Blackmon, owner of The Gathering Awareness and Book Center says the library is an important resource for the residents, especially children.
“That library needs to remain open for the children’s sake,” Blackmon said. “There are also people who go there to fill out their social security and unemployment.”
According to City of Pensacola and Escambia County officials, the Westside Library was placed in its current location so children would not be at risk walking in traffic to get to the Gregory Street locale. Young residents of Morris Court participate in summer reading programs, computer and educational programs which only add to the library’s high foot traffic. In fact, 475 children attended the nine programs held at the library in June and July. In those same months the number of circulation for Juvenile items was 2,619.
Jermaine Joseph a 14-year-old patron of the library says he uses the library almost every day and it would take away an afterschool activity if relocated.
“I come here to use the computer every day because I don’t have one at home,” Jermaine said. “It is very useful.”
The Westside branch is the first modern library located in Pensacola’s Westside; the former Alice S. Williams Library Branch on “E” Street closed its doors in the 1970s.
When the Westside Branch opened in 2006, $1.5 million was also approved by voters through the Pennies for Progress project to build a permanent facility on the Westside. Plans changed; however, in January 2012 the Pensacola City Council approved $3 million of Penny for Progress monies to fund the move of the Westside Library into the construct of the Legion Field Community Resource Center.
Gerry Hunter, founder and president of Friends of Westside Branch Library said that the relocation will have detrimental consequences for the Brownsville community.
“I think it’s a step backwards,” Hunter continued, “$1.5 million was set aside to build a new stand-alone Westside library branch. That $1.5 million was added with an extra $1.5 million to construct the new Legion Field Community Center.”
Hunter believes many Brownsville residents were not informed on the decision to relocate the library branch. He also feels city government should have been more transparent in this situation.
“The families and individuals that live in the Brownsville Community knew nothing about it,” Hunter said. “I think a good mayor and good [city] council members would do everything they can to help us; and make sure that knowledge and information is available to young people.”
Hunter believes residents and community organizations can work together to preserve the library.
“The young people are going there, it’s accessible,” he said. “As citizens our job is to make sure that knowledge is accessible.”