Thursday, January 8, 2009

Filling the Gap

Back in November, Philadelphia’s mayor, Michael Nutter, announced the closing of 11 of the city’s libraries due to Philadelphia’s overwhelming deficit. This decision was met with a resounding condemnation by city residents, but Michael’s stood firm, while explaining that as difficult as this may be, it’s absolutely necessary in his attempt to continue to fund other vital city services. In addition to the libraries, other budget cuts include city recreation centers, swimming pools and the consolidation of a few of the firehouses.

As a kid, I remember my almost daily trips to the Yeadon library to feed my addiction to Judy Blume. I’d lose myself within the aisles of books trying to limit myself to checking out only three at a time. There is no doubt the seeds of my passion for reading were planted within those walls. Thankfully, my two children have been bitten by the reading bug and love our weekly visits to our neighborhood library. Olivia’s currently digging the Jim Benton’s Dear Dumb Diary series and Yannick loves comic books.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve known Michael for years and I know these are not easy or frivolous choices for him. He’s a good, smart and thoughtful man.

But for the life of me, I don’t understand how he can deem a library, especially in an underserved community, as anything but an essential service, a cornerstone of many communities. And, I’m not alone because as I mentioned folks came out of the woodwork to express their outrage. A series of town hall meetings where scheduled throughout the city before the holidays and city officials, including Michael, listened intently as folks came forward and shared their personal stories about how these closing would adversely effect their lives. Many families use their local libraries as an ad hoc after school program for their kids. Especially in lieu of the expensive or often non-existent options for parents who have to find a safe place for their children after school. In this wretched economy, job seekers use the libraries internet access to look for jobs or revise their resumes. Elders use libraries as a resource or as a destination spot in their daily activities to stay connected to what’s happening in their communities.

Right before the new year, the Philadelphia’s plan to shutter these libraries was challenged in court and a judge halted the mayor’s intended action. The libraries are still open and Michael is still left with a huge budget gap to fill.

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