Our Public Library Lifeline Is Fraying. We'll Be Sorry When it Snaps Huffington Post: April 11, 2010 by Art Brodksky
This is National Library Week, a time normally reserved for celebrating an institution that plays a vital role in many of our cities, towns and counties. Instead, many libraries, particularly public libraries, are being decimated by budget cuts at a time when library services are needed most.
Libraries, once considered a necessity, are now seen as a luxury. They are low-hanging fruit for budget pluckers, particularly at the state and local levels of government in communities across the country. It's been a slow death by attrition over the past couple of years. First, it was the budget for books and materials because, after all, books and materials aren't people. No matter that books and materials are what makes a library, well, a library. Then came the hours of operation, then the staff, then the closure of branches. No two communities are approaching the situation identically, but in cities from Boston to Indianapolis, the stories are increasingly dire.
In Boston, the trustees voted to close four branches. There was lots of protest, and Mayor Thomas Menino still has to make the final call, but the situation doesn't look good.
The Florida legislature is considering eliminating state aid to libraries entirely, while the New Jersey legislature is only looking a at a 74 percent cut. Indianapolis and surrounding Marion County are also looking at closing six branches and cutting back programs and staff.
In my home community of Montgomery County, Maryland, formerly one of the wealthiest local jurisdictions, the County Council is looking at a budget for fiscal year 2011 of $29 million - down from $40 million just three years ago. This year, it is slated for a 23 percent cut - one of the largest of any agency, on top of cuts in the last fiscal year with percentage decreases larger than all but one county agency. And this is for a county of about one million residents in which 70 percent hold library cards. It's even worse across the river, in Fairfax County, Virgina, where libraries were declared a "discretionary" service while cutting 30 of 54 full-time librarians. Libraries discretionary? That's nuts.
These are only some of the stories. They are being repeated endlessly across the country, perhaps even where you live. Some places put a high value on their libraries. Contrast the $29 million of my county for the $51 million library budget in Seattle, a city of about 600,000. Sure, Seattle needed to cut the library budget, but the fact that they started out much higher than my home says something about their priorities. Sadly, Seattle is the exception, not the rule. READ MORE !
Happy National Library Week