Would you pay $728 more a year to keep schools and libraries fully funded? I would, but the voters of Northbridge, MA wouldn’t. According to the Boston Globe:
And yesterday, budget cuts and voter indifference in Northbridge finally caught up with the institution officially known as the Whitinsville Social Library. Its doors closed at 2 p.m. And though they will reopen again this week, people in Northbridge, population 13,100, will notice a difference.
The town cannot afford the $200,000 needed to keep the library fully running for another year. Once open 40 hours a week, it will be open just 12 hours starting this week. Six of the library’s nine employees, including both full time librarians, are out of work starting today. The Whitinsville Social Library will not be a library so much as it will be an isolated house of books, cut off from the state public library system and funded solely by private money left to the library over the years.
There will be no children’s story time. No summer reading program. No Internet access. And no way to borrow books from other public libraries. The library, founded in 1844, has become what it once was: an outpost.
The readers in Northbridge, though, are not suffering alone. Strapped for cash, towns in Massachusetts, including Saugus, Medway, and Gloucester, are doing what many consider unthinkable.
They are targeting the library, outraging readers in a state that boasts of its intellectual capital, and leaving a few not-so-silent librarians fighting for the right to borrow books in their towns.
“A library in a town is really the center of literacy,” said John Rauth , chairman of the board of trustees of the Whitinsville Social Library. “And it’s really a blow to the culture of a town to lose that access.”
And here’s why:
The reason is simple economics. With health care costs, fixed costs, and utility rates rising, and revenue flat or shrinking, many towns are forced to make difficult choices or ask voters to approve property tax overrides.
The voters, many of whom are getting their information from the Internet, are not always sympathetic. In Northbridge two weeks ago, 59 percent of voters opposed a $3.7 million property tax override, effectively deciding they would rather see deep cuts at the library and schools than pay, on average, $728 in increased taxes this year.
Voters in Saugus made a similar decision this year — and with similar results. The Saugus Public Library, though still funded through the end of this fiscal year, will close its doors Tuesday, needing time to prepare the building to be shuttered by the end of June. And Medway’s library, though still open, is cut off from the state library system, just like Northbridge, after an override failed last spring and the library budget was gutted….
“We sort of have a saying in our office that every community gets the library that it deserves. And that sort of means, if there’s support, the library is often well maintained. And if there isn’t support, the library often doesn’t get the staff, hours, and materials it needs,” Gray said.
I realize that for elderly people on a fixed income, property tax increases are hard. But we’re talking about $61 per month. Keep in mind that the total amount of the override in Northbridge was $3.7 million and that the funds needed for the library were $200,000, so what we’re really talking about is $3.30 per month. That’s less than a single ass-fattening Starbucks milkshake per month.
There’s a saying that “people get the government they deserve.” Well, the children of Massachusetts deserve better. Who speaks for them? (besides the Mad Biologist)
an aside: Laura Bush was a librarian. To her credit, she has advocated for increased funding to train librarians. But what good is having more librarians if the libraries aren’t open? One wonders what the cost of a few days of our excellent Iraqi Adventure would do for libraries in the U.S.