Debt-wracked Kiryat Shmona Library Closes as Creditors Demand Liquidation

For the past 10 days, Kiryat Shmona resident Moshe Strul, 57, says he feels like crying every time he sees the locked doors of the library he loves.

"I'm addicted to books, that's the culture I consume, not newspapers, not TV, not live shows. I can't even begin to tell you how much it hurts that the library is closed. And when I see the librarians out of work, my heart breaks."

The Kiryat Shmona library was shut down as the result of a decision by the temporary liquidator of the city's community center, in which the library is located. According to the liquidator, attorney Ehud Raz, the center has accumulated debts of about NIS 7 million.

The situation has been "hell" for the library's staff for several months now, according to librarian Avraham Lev. Their pay has been withheld and pension and other payments have not been transfered from their salaries. The other community center workers, who have also suffered, have declared labor sanctions, but according to Strul "the librarians love their job so much that they'd open the library secretly. They'd call me and other readers and tell me 'come now,' we're opening for an hour or two.'"

Chief librarian Yaffa Kaminer said yesterday that it might seem that people in outlying towns are not readers, but "they apparently don't understand how important the library is, no less than the readiness of bomb shelters. It's also a kind of security."

The Kiryat Shmona library serves 22,000 people, of whom 2,700 are regular members. They are served by seven part-time workers, who together make up three full-time positions.

Lev, 60, a university graduate who is in charge of the reading room, has been working there for 22 years, at a monthly salary of only NIS 4,500. Lev says he can't imagine how his city will survive without a library. "A library is not a bank or a post office; it's more important. Without wisdom and knowledge, there will be no banks or post offices," he says.

Strul, who is a security guard at a local school, agrees. "This place is essential for students who don't have a computer at home. Many of them come to study at the library, and there are also amazing programs for younger children," he says.

Although the library is closed, Kaminer went yesterday to buy new books for it, like she does every month. Kaminer says the funding comes from a member of a nearby kibbutz, who contributes NIS 1,000 a month in memory of his son.

"I wish the state would see the importance of this place like this dear man does," she says.

Kiryat Shmona Mayor Rabbi Nissim Malka, said: "The library is run by the Israel Association of Community Centers, to which the municipality transfers a monthly allocation. The community centers in Kiryat Shmona have accumulated a debt for the past 10 years, to the point of creditors suing for lack of payment. The city asked the Interior Ministry for a loan or a grant to allow an economic recovery plan to be implemented. Even before the Interior Ministry discussed it with us, creditors and some of the workers asked the court, through attorney Ehud Raz, to liquidate the community centers. The court acceded and appointed Raz as the liquidator."

Malka said it was the liquidator's decision to close the library and let the staff go but that municipal officials were discussing with him the possibility of reopening it.

A meeting is to be held today with representatives of Bank Hapoalim and Raz regarding the opening of the library. Raz told Haaretz that there was no choice but to liquidate the community center due to its debts. Raz said the liquidator's first priority is to see to creditors' needs, but that the court was asked to approve continued operation of the center if it could be done without compromising the the creditors' demands.

Raz said that at the moment, the city had stopped transferring funding and therefore drastic steps were required, including closing the library and other city-supported parts of the center. Raz said the library could reopen if the city provided the funding to which it was obligated, and that a number of bodies were interested in helping, and he would assist, assuring that funding would go directly to the library.

The Israel Community Centers Association said: "The library in Kiryat Shmona has encountered financial difficulties following which the court decided to close it. The association will do everything in its power to implement an economic recovery program that will lead to the reopening of the library."