"Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." – American journalist Walter Cronkite
I write a lot of different things for Metro Parent, both silly little essays about parenting and straight articles about serious issues. I usually love what the staff does with the artwork that goes with my work. Recently, they used Popsicle sticks to spell out how I hate being a room mom. Hysterical!
But I didn’t have a good reaction the first time I saw this month’s print Metro Parent cover that accompanies the article (I wrote) about the importance of libraries. When I saw the little girl on the cover and the headline that said "Long Live Libraries," I burst into tears.
I have been doing everything I possibly could to save our library in Troy since last May – knocking on doors, writing letters to editors, speaking at city council meetings, donating money, even having my beautiful daughters pose for pro-library-millage literature. Yet this May – May 1, 2011 – Troy Public Library will close its doors to residents. For two months, the dwindling staff will rush to inventory, store and protect all the library’s assets before shuttering the building completely at the end of June. The building and its precious contents will lie dormant in the hopes we get smart and find a way to save it.
I can’t believe my girls will grow up in a hometown without a library. It is breaking my heart.
We are not perfect users of our library. I’m so goofy that when we do borrow books, I tend to pile up lots of overdue fines. But I always figure that’s OK. Call it my donation to a library that does a great job at keeping my kids supplied with wonderful books, programs, computers, games, puppets and space – space for them to play, study and be safe while I look for my own books.
The staff has been remarkable. But soon, they’ll all be working in other libraries, or they’ll be looking for jobs in the worst economy of my lifetime. And they won’t have our library’s job search resources available to them.
The loss for all of us is simply tragic.
I knew this day would come if the people didn’t listen. I knew last May that the group in our town that never met a millage they liked would not let the library be saved without a big fight. In the end, they convinced the people that a library isn’t worth a few cups of Starbucks a week. They convinced the people that somewhere in our starving city budget would be a few extra million dollars sitting around, gathering dust, ready to save us.
They were wrong. The money isn’t there. And so our library will close.
So take it from me. These are extremely hard times for our country, our state and our cities. Your library may be on the chopping block next – especially if it’s operated as city departments, as Troy’s has been, meaning in lean times it competes for shrinking revenue dollars with the public safety, staff and other city amenities. And unlike amenities like parks and recreation that can charge for programs, public libraries can’t – or else they are no longer public libraries.
Recently, stories about at-risk libraries have begun popping up in local newspapers. Cities are realizing they can’t maintain the status quo without new revenues, as all of our property taxes are in freefall. Lower property taxes = less money for cities to spend on services we want.
If you care about your public library and understand its value, I hope you will be prepared to fight when it’s in danger.
We lost the battle in Troy. Please learn from our example.