ALA’s Washington Office’s newsletter District Dispatch reports that the Fort Huachuca Army Library in Arizona has been closed down. According to the report, servicemembers and their dependents are being directed to the city library.
According to Ft. Huachuca’s Newcomer’s Guide, the nearest city to the base is Sierra Vista, Arizona, so I’m guessing the library they’re being sent to is the Sierra Vista Public Library. They look like they have reasonable hours and a decent list of online databases.
But I’m still sad to see this library close for several reasons, all linked to my experience as an Air Force librarian management trainee in the late 1990s. What I’m about to say is based on my experience at working at two AF bases and may not be applicable to the Army library system.
Base libraries often support college education. At the two bases I worked there were at least three institutions that taught classes on base leading to bachelor and advanced degree programs. They worked with us so that our collections would support their curriculum. This made your average Air Force library of the late 1990s a split between a public and academic library. Unless you’re lucky enough to be next to a large public library, I think the academic piece would be missing, and it is unlikely that the universities offering classes on base would provide resources to the local public library.
Base libraries usually offered some kind of very military-speficic collection that public libraries shouldn’t be expected to carry. For example, on both the bases I worked at, we carried all the reading materials needed for the Noncommissioned Officers (NCO) Academy. This academy was a career ladder for enlisted personnel. Where will NCOs go for research now? Perhaps arrangements have been made, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d welcome comments from people in a position to know. Aside from the NCO Academy, we also carried all the books from the AF Chief of Staff Reading List, which was considered good preparation for officers. I know there are similar reading lists for Army officers and I think the Army would spend more money providing each individual officer with books than by having one or two copies available at the post library.
Off-base facilities are often difficult for dependents, especially children to get to. This might be less true of Army bases, which don’t require huge runways. But while the post library and other recreational facilities are often within walking distance of base housing on the AF bases I worked at, just walking to the gate was a long haul. Then there’s the check points. Military bases rationally have checkpoints where a guard needs to check your ID and assess your possible threat to base security. During times of heightened alert, guards may need to search your vehicle or verify the identities of everyone in your car. In pre-9/11 days I sometimes had to wait 45 minutes to get on base. I imagine it has to be worse now, though I don’t know. That’s a big barrier to someone who just wants to pop out for some children’s books. Sometimes alerts go on for days. If there is a post library, your dependents can go to the library and take their minds off of whatever is causing the alert, but getting off base and back on is hassle city.
Finally, this just feels like another way that our government is disrespecting the troops and not supporting them. I have to agree with ALA staff when they say:
Closing this historic library, especially during a time of war, deprives soldiers and their families of an important resource for education, information and technology.
ALA is deeply concerned because the stakeholders — the soldiers and their families — were left out of the process, and the decision-makers have little understanding of the staff and services that are integral to a library and the community it serves.
I’m open to someone from Ft. Huachuca stopping by and explaining why my experience in the 1990s isn’t relavant to the current situation and how the troops and their dependents are being taken care of. It has been nearly ten years after all.
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