In an effort to save money, the library at Dover Air Force Base is to transition to a virtual service by the end of March.
It's no secret that budget cuts have hit hard within the ranks of America's military.
The services have been ordered to trim their ranks – with the Air Force needing to divest itself of more than 23,000 personnel – and more cuts in personnel, equipment and services are needed at almost every level in all five branches of the military.
Those cuts have hit Dover Air Force Base with a decision to convert the brick-and-mortar base library into a virtual collection of online books, magazines and digital recordings that will continue to meet the needs of the base population.
'More of a transformation'
The library, now located in a renovated barracks building near the base clinic will close its doors at the end of this month, said Bob Wyatt, chief of the force development flight with the 436th Force Support Squadron.
"The doors will be locked on Feb. 28," Wyatt said.
"We'll stand up and open the doors on the new library configuration on the 21st of March."
That new configuration will be markedly different from what airmen have come to expect since the first library was established during Dover's World War II days as a training and submarine patrol base.
"It's more of a transformation," said Lt. Col. Matthew M. Orlowsky, commander of the 436th FSS. "This kind of started off a few years ago with the services transformation, trying to figure out what does our community need as we go into funding downturns."
But with last year's large budget cuts due to the Congressional sequester, commanders started taking a harder look at how to save money − and to do it quickly.
"Certainly with the sequester, we prompted ourselves and went a little bit faster," Orlowsky said.
Because they already have access to the Kent County and Dover public libraries, those facilities would be able to meet most of the needs of the base population, Orlowsky said.
Spokespersons for both the city and county libraries said base airman need only present their military identification cards and proof of being assigned to the base to receive a library card.
Two of the most popular programs at the base library would remain on base: the children's books would be transferred to the Youth Center in the housing area, and materials airmen need for promotion and career advancement would be moved to the base education office.
Airmen still would have access to a number of other resources, free of charge, such as Zinio, which can provide more than 5,000 magazines online, OverDrive, which distributes ebooks, audio books and music and videos, and Byki, an online language tutor.
"We value education, and we're trying to leverage what the Air Force has given us," Orlowsky said.
The program is not just affecting Dover, Orlowsky said.
"This particular move is Air Force-wide, but each installation is trying . . . to transform into what meets the community needs," he added.
The calculation: no cash
Base libraries primarily rely on money base personnel pay to enjoy various morale building and educational and recreational programs. These programs typically include gymnasiums, golf courses, bowling alleys, service clubs and recreational rentals.
In some instances, funding for those morale activities that do receive congressional funding has been drying up, forcing bases to spread available money even more thinly.
"What we're hearing from our headquarters is that's not going to be available and largely it has not been available this year, so we've been sort of deficit spending," Orlowsky said.
Wyatt estimated it costs approximately $300,000 annually to run the Dover base library, including salaries for its four part-time staff members. Those employees have been offered other positions on base, he said.
The library's assets include approximately 47,000 books, CDs, DVDs, paperbacks and other media, he said. Arrangements have been made to transfer approximately 1,000 items directly related to Air Force history to the Air Mobility Command Museum.
The rest, Wyatt said, will be offered to other Department of Defense and federal government agencies and eventually may work their way through the military's reclamation and reutilization process so they become available to civilian libraries.
Despite the need to save money, both Orlowsky and Wyatt know there will be people unhappy with the decision to do away with the library system as it now exists. It boils down to working within funding restraints while still ensuring the base community can access the resources it needs, Orlowsky said.
"I don't see this as cutting back, and I'm not trying to mince words," he said. "We'll have a library program that's now going to be sustainable, but closer to the community that needs it."