One of the largest public library systems in the world is slated for closure next month, and along with it will go after-school programs for Philadelphia’s kids, GED classes for drop-outs, the go-to source for books for school projects and everything else that makes libraries an enriching community resource for families.
The Free Library System of Philadelphia has turned its website into a spot providing the most up-to-date information on the closure slated for Oct. 2. The top of the site now proclaims “Keep Your Libraries Open.”
But there doesn’t seem much chance of that at the moment unless the Pennsylvania State Legislature passes legislation providing additional funding to keep the libraries open.
They’re not the only losses in what’s been termed the city’s “doomsday” budget, one that would lay off some three thousand workers, including cops and firemen. Children’s rec centers are also slated for closure. None of it’s pretty.
But the idea of a free library disappearing? It’s enough to give parents palpitations. Not to mention the unemployed (who were counting on the free Internet use to search for jobs). Oh yeah, and all those readers out there.
Libraries are expensive to run – largely because of their premise as “free” institutions. But that’s the whole point – they’re community supported (via a mixture of taxes, donations and grants – doses of which vary from place to place) so the entire community has access to information. Kids can learn to read, adults can read . . . people can pick up movies, CDs, surf the Web. Come on, do I need to throw out more hackneyed expressions to explain why these windows of the world (there I go again) are so important?
The Philly library’s size adds to its expense. There are fifty-four branches, including three larger regional libraries plus the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. A system that has existed since 1891, it was chartered as “a general library which shall be free to all.”
No doubt police, fire, etc. are important community services that need to be preserved. But when it comes time to make budget cuts, libraries should be far from the chopping block. They’re part and parcel of public education, a civil right in this country, with the added benefit of serving not just children but the entire community.
Unfortunately, educating the public is not a moneymaker. But I’m going to run the risk of parading out another cliche here and say it doesn’t cost so much as it pays. Does over a century of free access to information mean nothing? (Check out the Free Library site for more information on the campaign to keep it open – and what will happen if they can’t.)
Proving the access to information can actually be put to the front burner in this economy, the New York Public Library is doing the opposite of Philly – they’re actually increasing the hours to meet increased demand, including job-seekers.