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Save our Public Library System -- the Queen City's crown jewel 

Unless you're in self-imposed exile, you've heard the news that Charlotte-Mecklenburg is closing 12 of its 24 library branches. In fact, the news may have sent you into exile because of the ridiculous thought that the only way to remedy a budget shortfall is to close libraries. Public libraries offer countless services to multiple communities in Charlotte and county leaders want to close some of them -- when usage has doubled.

Branches slated to close include Beatties Ford, Belmont, Carmel, Checkit Outlet, Cornelius, Hickory Grove, Independence Regional, Mint Hill, Morrison Regional, Myers Park, Scaleybark and Sugar Creek.

How tragic is it that some of the communities that need the branches the most are the very branches targeted for closure, like the Beatties Ford Road branch? This branch is integral to the community that uses it for job searches, meetings, research for school projects and (what many people are not talking about) as a voting precinct.

What's even sadder is that Charlotte's public library system is one of the best in the country. The Library Journal of Public Library Service designated the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County a "Five-Star" library system in November 2009. This rating is like the Michelin Guide for restaurants and hotels. According to the press release about the award, "Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is the only library system in N.C. that earned a star rating on the LJ Index. Among 15 libraries in comparable budget categories, the Library ranked No. 5 in overall score and was one of only three library systems in the Southeast to receive a Five-Star rating (there were two in Florida). In addition, in its budget category, the Library ranked No. 1 in program attendance per capita."

And last February, Library Journal recognized the PLCMC as one of the top library systems in the country.

Charlotte's public library system is one of the crown jewels of our fair city. What other institutions or public services are receiving this type of exposure and accolades? If usage has doubled and the public library system has distinguished itself from any other in the state and country, why harm it? Why remove the one, shining jewel from the crown? It is because the Queen City does not value education.

We can spend goo-gobs of money on beautifying a city that is already beautiful; build light rails and put them in areas where people can afford to drive to and from work; and give money to build sports arenas, but we can't find money to keep our award-winning libraries open? We want to lay off librarians, the keepers of knowledge in our society, and programming staff, people who ensure that this knowledge is tied directly to our communities and who help to maintain these spaces so that they are desirable locations for meetings, fellowship and the like.

This measure comes on the heels of the announcement that CMS will make major cuts that will also close schools and eliminate the jobs of hundreds of teachers, which will undoubtedly negatively impact these same communities. All of this foolishness because the county needs some of its money back to close the budget gap? What kind of piss-poor planning is that? This country and county has been in a recession for some time now. Why those in charge would allocate funds that they had no way of generating is beyond me. I'm not an economist, but I know that doesn't make much sense.

My point is this -- the leadership that made the mistake should be made to pay and not the libraries. When is the leadership going to take budget cuts or have layoffs or be held responsible for their questionable actions? Why are they always looking outward for solutions when they should be looking inward? Perhaps they could learn to budget better, so that we can avoid these calamities, which are avoidable if you know what you're doing. Perhaps we should ask some of these underperforming sports teams for some of our money back? Has attendance doubled at Bobcats' games lately?

Which leads me back to my major point, which is that people are way too comfortable closing schools and libraries when times get tough. Education is critical for the survival and growth of our society and culture. Closing award-winning libraries should never be a reasonable solution to a major problem that can be fixed if our priorities shift.

Luckily Charlotteans have responded to this announcement with swift action attempting to raise the much-needed funds to avoid these cuts. Visit: https://purchase.plcmc.net/fundform/annualfundform.htm to make a donation directly to the library or the "$2 million in 1 Week Campaign" on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=418868311176).

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