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.
As a librarian, this kind of thing makes me sick at heart. Especially when people advance the argument that libraries are no longer needed because you can get all you need from the Internet. Because a) that's not true, and b) libraries are HOW people who can't afford computers and Internet connections get online.
Something similar happened in Oregon just recently, and though the reasons are complex (having to do, ultimately, with timber subsidies), it still sucks mightily.
Libraries haven't always done a particularly good job of selling themselves, but to be fair, it hasn't been until recently that we've had to. When we do, usage often increases to pre-widespread Internet levels. That's significant.
There's also the ironic footnote that libraries in urban areas increasingly form a sort of social safety net. The closure of government information centers and the movement of government documents online has been good in one way, because it's so much easier to get your hands on that stuff now. But you have to know what you're doing. Public librarians increasingly find themselves impromptu tax preparers, health counselors, legal advisors, and social workers. We're not trained to do any of that. And yet.
Speaking of Iraq, Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library, has a blog. Few in my profession have to live their ideals as thoroughly as he and his staff do right now.
Every day I hate America just a little bit more. Sigh.
I support schools and libraries, and I think there is a lot of penny-wise, pound foolish thinking going on here. One frequent thing I hear is "why should I pay to educate someone else's kids?" Why they don't get it that an educated population benefits everyone: it means higher productivity, lower crime rates, better health care, and so on. Lack of opportunity leads to social unrest, higher crime rates, etc.
That being said, $61 a month can be a huge amount to someone on a fixed income. There are already elderly people who find themselves forced to choose between food and medicine, and $61 to some of them is the difference between being able to eat or not. While most such people probably rent rather than own, increased property taxes usually also mean increased rents. Funding schools via property taxes is the way things are done in the USA, but we seriously need to re-think that. It means that poor areas have less money or higher property tax rates, or both. Often the kids in poor areas have greater educational needs. Yes, its a problem when people vote down funding for schools, but there is a more fundamental problem in the way we pay for our educational system.
Not only are we talking about coming up with only $ 61 @ month, we are talking about that as an _average_. That elderly retiree on a fixed income may pay considerably less than the average; an employed fifty-something like me considerably more. Collectively, our society could afford it--if we chose to make literacy a priority and were willing to cut back on all the stuff we accumulate. I'm all for the 'materialistic' world view when it comes to science, but 'materialism' is another matter altother.
Obviously the Library wasn't the point if it was only 200K out of 3.7 million. So really the administrators, i.e. bureaucrats of the area put the Library on the cutting block rather than stop their increase in salary, IRA or pension. They must have figured they would get what they want by putting the good stuff to the axe. How about cutting the salaries of the top 20 salaried employees of the county by 10,000 each to fund the library? That is more what voters are looking for, and I would have more sympathy if they had already done that.
I am always in favor of funding libraries, they should never be in the not funded list, but should be like police costs. This is typical politics - and is why I can never really get enthusiastic about any party.
I have always thought that if there were any institution that government should simply throw excess money at (the way conservatives often claim liberals want to fund things) it should be public libraries.
Here in Waterloo, IA books are disappearing off the shelf; I can't imagine they're making that much money off selling them. It's frustrating watching literature disappear, so they can buy more computers for people to check their myspaces.
I appreciate your writing, keep it up.
I'm very appreciative that I have access to the best public library system in the country, The Columbus and Franklin County, OH system. The help provided by the library staff in locating and using what's available is invaluable. I can't imagine any community not having a library, especially with the state of our nations' education system. I suggest the citizens of those communities losing library services promote separate legislation and funding that applies only to the library.
Obviously the Library wasn't the point if it was only 200K out of 3.7 million. So really the administrators, i.e. bureaucrats of the area put the Library on the cutting block rather than stop their increase in salary, IRA or pension. They must have figured they would get what they want by putting the good stuff to the axe. How about cutting the salaries of the top 20 salaried employees of the county by 10,000 each to fund the library? That is more what voters are looking for, and I would have more sympathy if they had already done that
I'm very appreciative that I have access to the best public library system in the country, The Columbus and Franklin County, OH system. The help provided by the library staff in locating and using what's available is invaluable. I can't imagine any community not having a library, especially with the state of our nations' education system. I suggest the citizens of those communities losing library services promote separate legislation and funding that applies only to the library