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It’s ‘The End’ for another Camden library

There will be no James Patterson novels to borrow today, and no computers for job applicants to use.

There will be no James Patterson novels to borrow today, and no computers for job applicants to use.

The Nancy Drews will be packed up, along with the heavy unabridged dictionary that sat open Tuesday to the letter "W" and words like "wulfenite" - a mineral named for an Austrian mineralogist.

The Fairview branch of the Camden Free Public Library shut its doors for good Tuesday, the victim of budget cuts brought on by a $28 million city budget deficit that could eventually shut down Camden's library system altogether.

Set in a former residence on Collings Avenue, the Fairview branch had been in operation since 1925, a cornerstone of the neighborhood that was built as a planned community for workers from the nearby shipyard after World War I.

Today, Fairview is a predominantly low-income neighborhood, where residents can be seen mowing their lawns and sitting out on park benches in Yorkship Square, trying to hold out against the city's problems.

"There's more drug dealers on the corners. It's not the same place it was when I moved here in the 1990s, but it's still a good neighborhood," said Ethel Randall, the library assistant.

There is concern among many in Fairview that with the library closed, neighborhood children will be more inclined to hang out on the street corners and fall into drug dealing, said Jerome Taylor, a community activist.

After school and in summertime, the library is flooded with teenagers and children who use the library's books and computers for their schoolwork, or to check out web sites and e-mail their friends.

"The number of our students don't have the Internet at home far outweigh those that do," said Kristie Wilson, a teacher at Freedom Academy Charter School, across the street from the library. "At the end of the day you can watch the stream of kids going out of here and right into that library."

For the growing ranks of Camden's unemployed, the library system has been a place to go to check job listings and file electronic applications. On Monday morning at the Fairview branch, the two computer users said they were there looking for work.

"I applied to McDonald's two weeks ago. I'm still waiting to hear," said Jeffrey Carr, 23.

With library hours being scaled back and branches closing around the country, low-income people are finding it harder to stay connected in a world that is becoming increasingly digitized, said Claire McInerney, the chair of Rutgers' Library and Information Science Department.

"The library is our commons. It is the place we can always count on," she said. "We can all complain about test scores and literacy. But the libraries have been there to support it all, and to cut back on libraries is going to be damaging."

For Camden, the closing of Fairview leaves the city with two branches. The future is unclear for Camden library-goers, and could include more closures as the city's budget troubles continue, or a merger with the County County library system.

On Tuesday morning, Randall and her boss, Barbara Park, were savoring their last day at the Fairview branch.

The pair have been working together for 18 years, since Randall, then a struggling single mother, pulled herself off the welfare line to take the civil service exam. The two became fast friends, sharing a love of reading and trips out to Lancaster, Pa. to shop for jams and fresh produce.

Park even encouraged Randall to move to Fairview with her son, offering her pickup truck and a hand on moving day.

Both are keeping their jobs, but they found out Monday that Park would be going to the Ferry Avenue branch and Randall would be going to the downtown library.

"We worked together a long time. I don't know how to put it into words," Randall said. "I guess I just have to cope with it."