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One of Oldest Libraries Faces Closing

April 21, 2003

FRANKLIN, Mass. (AP) _ Funding cuts may force one of the nation’s oldest public libraries to close its doors more than 200 years after it opened with books donated by Benjamin Franklin.

This cash-strapped town of 29,500 people has laid off 46 workers, nearly a quarter of its employees over the past two years.

Facing a $4 million to $6 million shortfall next year, it is also looking at cutting four police jobs, laying off five firefighters and closing one of the town’s two fire stations.

``It’s nothing that we’re happy with, but we’re realists and we can see what the economic times are doing to us,″ Kenneth Wiedemann, who chairs the town’s library board, said Monday.

Franklin’s town administrator, Jeffrey Nutting, said the library started the fiscal year with a budget of nearly $900,000. It was trimmed in the middle of the year to $575,000. Town officials worry the budget may have to be cut more _ to $290,000 in the next fiscal year.

But the town 23 miles southwest of Boston hopes that if threatened state aid cuts don’t exceed 10 percent they can keep the library open one day a week _ or perhaps two days if it closes for the summer. It has already cut back operations to about 32 hours a week, Wiedemann said.

Much of this community’s pride and history is wrapped up in its library.

When the town decided to rename itself after Franklin it wrote to the patriot publisher in hopes he would present it with a bell for the new town Meeting House. Instead, Franklin packed off 116 books with the suggestion, according to town tradition, that ``sense was preferable to sound.″

Initially, membership to the library was by subscription, but in 1790 townsfolk voted to open the collection to all residents without charge, making it one of the nation’s first free public libraries.

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