If you close one library

April 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

At the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, April 9th, John McGrath told the trustees “if you close one library, you are going to have to open a prison” (link). At that meeting, the BPL trustees, facing a $3.3 million budget gap, voted to close 4 library branches. The trustees considered two other straw man proposals, both clearly designed to make the third seem acceptable.

These are hard times for everyone, but in this tough economy, libraries serve an even greater need. Libraries provide a public meeting place, a place where job seekers have access to books, computers, printers, copiers, and reference services. Libraries supplement the public schools and provide a place for both children and adults to take refuge from the streets.

It’s not surprising that governments from the federal level down to the city and county administrations should face cuts and have to make some tough decisions. Outside funding to the library has declined by $4.1 million since 2008, according to the Boston Globe. Those outside funding sources include both the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts.

Some blame must be placed on the BPL trustees for not looking more seriously at other, more creative solutions to address the budget shortfall. All of their proposals involved closures or reductions in hours; none looked at the types and numbers of staff in the libraries or other sources of revenue. Even a small increase in revenue might save one more job, providing one more dedicated community servant with the opportunity to continue providing aid to those who need it most.

However, we must not lose sight of the sources of the funding cuts. Why is it that the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts found the library funding so easy to cut? They have used the budget crisis to hold the libraries hostage in a political game, waiting for public outcry. The city and state governments need to more carefully consider the potential effects of library closures and use them as a political tool.

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