ABILENE, Texas — The estimated 40,000 volumes that make up the Dyess Air Force Base library currently sit in the dark these days, resources such as popular fiction, children’s books, videos and language study tools shut away.
The closure is a result of last year’s sequestration, and it’s hoped that it will prove temporary, said Lt. Col. Naomi Welcome, commander of the 7th Force Support Squadron, the return of funding ultimately up to Air Combat Command, the base’s major command.
The base’s library has been closed since Sept. 30, its fate not foreign to many military installations throughout the country, Welcome said.
“A lot of bases are going through exactly this,” she said.
For now, the library is looking for someone who can be available a few hours a week to keep the facility open as a resource.
“We’re looking at trying to fund that (position) — maybe 10 hours a week, two days a week or so, and see how that goes,” she said.
The building still is undergoing some use, Welcome said, by those taking tests for the base’s Weighted Airman Promotion System. And there are other designated places on Dyess where airmen can study in quiet if need be, she said.
But even though library use has dropped overall in recent years because of the proliferation of computerized resources, the base does want to offer it, Welcome said.
The part-time position would be funded through dollars not appropriated by Congress, she said.
The base is looking to hire someone for the position “now,” Welcome said, but doesn’t have an exact timetable.
At its height, the base library had five employees, Welcome said, with steep requirements for certain personnel.
“You’re required to have a librarian with (a degree in) library science, so at that time we had those individuals,” she said. “They don’t come cheap.”
Permanently closing Dyess’ library would require “much higher approval than from the wing commander,” Welcome said, and would necessitate approval from entities including the secretary of the Air Force and Congress.
According to a March 8 article in the Air Force Times, libraries at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska have closed their doors within the past year “in the wake of budget cuts known as sequestration.”
In addition, three more base libraries — at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio — were expected to downsize or close upon submission of closure packages, according to the Air Force Times.
Dyess’ library initially was budgeted under a contract that expired in 2012, Welcome said.
“At the time, we figured we could do it a little bit cheaper,” she said, and so the base worked with Air Combat Command to acquire funds to keep the facility open.
But those funds were cut at the end of last fiscal year, creating the need to temporarily close the library’s doors.
For a while, the library was available on a sort of honor system, she noted.
“Because we didn’t have funding for a position at the time, we did allow individuals to come and check out a key,” Welcome said.
“Anytime someone had the key checked out, someone else could utilize the library, but they would have to sign in. We didn’t get a lot of patrons that way, but, of course, we did have a few.”
In the aftermath of the temporary closure, some leased materials have had to be returned.
As for those that remain, “the only ones we would be able to give away would be those that were donated,” Welcome said, with the remaining volumes likely relocated to other Air Force library facilities in the event the facility permanently closes.
The base has asked for help from entities such as the Abilene Public Library, Welcome said, but local libraries didn’t have extra personnel to offer, “even temporarily,” because of their own day-to-day needs.
But Dyess personnel do receive excellent public support, said Rebecca Carson, flight chief for Force Development, through the Abilene Library Consortium.
The consortium allows patrons to use a single library card to access books and resources at the Abilene Public Library, its branches, and the libraries of Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University and McMurry University.
Carson also noted that the Air Force’s head librarians have put many resources online for easy access.
“We’re trying to get information out about that,” she said.