GARY | Wind-whipped snow greeted some three dozen people as they rallied Monday morning outside the now-shuttered main Gary Public Library.
The Concerned Citizens group represented multiple generations gathered to protest the closing of the library at 220 W. Fifth Ave. The building is being converted to the South Shore Museum & Cultural Center.
"Education not incarceration" and "Books not baseball" read some of the signs carried by the group.
The library ended circulation services Wednesday, and Monday marked the official end of all main library services after more than 100 years.
On Dec. 13, the Gary Public Library Board voted 4-2 to approve design plans and authorize procurement of financing for the $2 million construction of the museum and cultural center. Board members Sadie Sheffield and Nancy Valentine voted against the resolution, citing ongoing financial problems.
"The board is spending library money (for the museum and cultural center). They've already spent $50,000 of library money for the architectural plans," said Robert Buggs, who organized the protest group in September.
Buggs said the board won't make public information about contractors hired by Library Board President Tony Walker.
Linda Peterson, of Gary, posed multiple questions during her address to the group.
"What did the board base their information on? They said it would cost $2 million. Does that include furniture? Is that just the construction costs? Where is our voice?" she asked.
"The board has made multimillion dollar decisions. We were not privy to these decisions," Peterson said.
She also questioned what would happen to the people who regularly use the main library, including "the unemployed who use the computers to write resumes and the children who are given assignments to do on the computer. The people who congregate here to encourage one another. The working poor, ordinary people."
Between 20 and 30 employees may be displaced as the library transitions to a museum, Peterson said.
"A museum requires curators and archivists," she said. "Those positions require more education."
A proposed cybercafe included in the renovation plans came under attack from every speaker at the rally. The Library Board revealed drawings of the cafe, but the drawings show no computers, Peterson said.
Lovetta Tindal, of Gary, suggested renovating other downtown buildings for the museum and cultural center.
Pointing to the Boys & Girls Club building across the street from the library, she said: "They're leaving that building and moving somewhere else. We have lots of abandoned buildings here in downtown."
Tindal said some board members cited unsafe physical conditions at the library as a reason to repurpose the building.
"If the building is not safe as a library, how is it safe as a museum?" she said.