Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just say 'Hell, no' to any library cuts

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 11:56 AM

Some people are really easy to please, I guess. God knows that’s never been my problem, but still, I’m amazed at the smiley face being placed over the library board’s latest frantic decision.

OK, now they’ll keep all the branches open (YAY! We win! Everything is beautiful!), which, yes, is a good thing. At the same time, though, to make the spending cuts mandated by County King Harry Jones, the guts are being ripped out of some of the system’s most valuable services. First of all, the libraries will only be open five days a week, making them less available to the public. Secondly, the library’s valuable computer training and job-seeking classes, which have been critical in many Charlotteans’ lives during these rough times, will be severely cut back. And, here’s the kicker, the budget for new books and other media will be eliminated. Read that last thing again: A library system that doesn’t take in new books. And people are laughing and clapping as if this is some sort of victory of civilization over bean counters?

One more time, in plain English: It is completely unacceptable for any self-respecting community to gut its library services, and especially a library system that’s the envy of cities around the country. As we’ve said before, libraries are not luxuries or fripperies — they’re one of the basic necessities of a modern city’s life. (Part of a conversation overheard yesterday outside a library: "If I wanted to live somewhere with crappy libraries, I'd have stayed in Monroe.")

Wrecking the quality of our libraries (and never mind what they’re suggesting we allow the county to do to our schools) is no better than if government suddenly said it wouldn’t fix streets and highways for the next couple of years. Or that we all had to start hauling our own garbage to the dump. And now consider the fact that more, much larger cuts will be demanded of the library system this summer.

What can be done? Well, immediately, as we’ve pointed out, the county could cut in half the $4.3 million slated for "business investment grants" — particularly since Charlotte's business honchos aren't exactly rushing to rescue the library —  and hand it over to the library sytem. Problem solved till summertime. Between now and July, I’m hoping the library board will find the courage to educate King Harry and the county commission on the community value of a strong library system — especially when times are tight and the citizens need the vital services the system provides. If the county needs to raise property taxes to keep the libraries intact, then for God’s sake, do it. I’m not exactly rolling in money, but I’m more than willing to take a 5-percent increase in property taxes if it saves our libraries and schools. At rock bottom, it’s called giving a damn about the community as a whole. If you agree, please, please, let the people on the county commission and the library board know.

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