HAMMOND | For two branches of the Hammond Public Library, their chapter has come to an end.
The E.B. Hayward branch, 1212 172nd St., and the Howard branch, 7047 Grand Ave., were open to patrons Monday for the last time.
The libraries were closed for financial reasons, namely state property tax caps, a frozen tax levy in Lake County and low collection rates.
Hammond Public Library Director René Greenleaf said staff and patrons were saddened by the closings, but the decision had been made and now it's time to move forward.
"This is a chapter that we have to close in this book, but there's a new chapter that's going to open," she said. "I'm looking toward the future."
Residents need to become advocates for libraries, using their voice and pocketbooks to rally support, she said.
"The Hammond Public Library isn't the only library cutting hours," Greenleaf said. "All of us have been affected by the economy."
The Hammond libraries had a $1.2 million shortfall, she said.
Library closures and reduced hours are becoming more common in the United States and abroad.
The Gary Library Board voted to close its Tolleston branch and its main library branch. Discussions are under way to close libraries in Detroit and Toronto. Appeals have been filed to save a handful of London libraries that were voted to close.
Clusters of foil balloons reading "Best Wishes" sat on the checkout counter Monday at the E.B. Hayward branch.
Patrons at both branches paused to read the large signs posted near the exits explaining that the doors would be locked Tuesday and that all materials needed to be returned to the main library, 564 State St.
"I don't like it," Edward Donnelly said after reading one of the signs.
Donnelly, of Griffith, said he likes visiting the E.B. Hayward branch.
"It's small, and people are nice here," he said.
Donnelly traced his fingers along the map, trying to figure out his route to the main library.
Employees who have decided to keep working at the library will be transferred to the main location. Those people will continue to do the work they've been doing at the branches, said Linda Swisher, public information coordinator for the Hammond Public Library.
Computers will be moved to the main location to supplement the computers there, and library workers will salvage as many books as they can.
Greenleaf said she is optimistic the community will come together and create a plan to reopen the shuttered branches.