Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Save our libraries. Redux — the 'Crying Wolf' edition

Posted By on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 10:42 AM

As our regular readers know, this blog is primarily about (mostly local) art, design –  and the social/cultural events and trends that affect and influence them. But, two months ago we departed from our usual topics to urge everyone to help ward off the closure of half our libraries — because we believe that it is an issue that anyone (who advocates any kind of cultural development) can be apathetic about.

And as we all know now, the March crisis, a $2 million shortage that threatened to close 12 branches and lay off 150 employees, got averted with reduced hours at all branches, and the layoff of around 120 employees and pay cuts for all those who remained. But now the wolf is back at the door. And this time the it’s a seemingly steeper challenge:

As per the new county budget, the library system will apparently be short of $17 million for the next fiscal year (starting July 1). So, if a shortage of $2 million could cause the closure of half the branches, this should be the death of the whole system, right? Well, apparently the math isn’t that simple. The current advocacy page at the library website warns (in bold red letters, in case you miss it) about the imminent closure of 16 branches — unless of course, something is done soon. Elsewhere, they are also proposing a “Sustainability Plan” where with an additional $8 million from the county and the cities, they could survive by closing only 4 of the branches.

Some of us — especially those who championed this issue two months ago — are perhaps a bit weary of it this time around. There have also been questions about the role and the judgment of the Library Board of Trustees, who ultimately decides what the Library does. If they had a Plan B (the one adopted now, with the reduced hours) did they really have to cause all the shock and anxiety at the prospect of the sudden closure of 12 branches? (It also didn’t help that, in the process, they aggravated the County Commissioners and the county manager — who controls almost 90 percent of their funding – by making it seem that it was the Commissioners’ decision to close them, and not theirs.) Moreover, by causing a public outcry (not to mention an outpouring of support) then, perhaps they lessened the chances of that happening again now, when there is an even bigger need for it.

Maybe all of us have a limited supply of outrage/angst (well, with a few possible exceptions), and it is not easy to repeatedly whip up those emotions — especially about the same old topic, when we have hot new monsters to shake our fists at. However, this is still an issue that would have an immediate impact on the quality of our daily lives, as well as a long-term one on prospects of this city. It is too critical to be discounted due to doubts about the competence of the government/leadership. People come and go, the institutions need to remain.

It is in our interests to contribute whatever we can, to urge the city and the county to allocate more funds, and moreover, to remain concerned and engaged. It is just too valuable a resource for us to lose, particularly now, in the middle of this seemingly never-ending recession — when we fear losing a lot of things that we took for granted just two years ago.

Let’s try hold on to this one.

— Manoj P Kesavan

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