This morning I decided to make a brief stop at City Hall in support of the Newark Public Library (NPL). With no fiscal relief in sight, Newark is poised to witness the closure of some branches and a decrease in operational hours at others. While I am no expert in municipal budgeting and am the first to admit that there’s much that I still don’t know about the severity of Newark’s budgetary woes, I am often alarmed when indispensable and critical services are sacrificed as a means of repair.
Newark is among many locales across the country where the budgets of public libraries are on the chopping block. Earlier this year the Boston Public Library closed 4 of its 26 branches, Los Angeles has critically reduced its hours of operations and Camden, New Jersey, was set to close its entire public library system before it was rescued by the county arm. In Newark, pundits may argue that reductions are consistent across all City of Newark departments and that NPL should proactively respond to cuts accordingly. Yet, as a proponent of the NPL system in specific, and public libraries in general, I argue for an approach to budgeting that contextualizes reductions based on services rendered through various departments. In other words, should the administration force all departments to make reductions based on a fixed-percentage or should certain departments, based on services rendered, be asked to make provisional cuts set specifically for that department? I defer to the advice of fiscal experts in that regard…but, what I do know is this: I have personally benefited from the free internet access made available in public libraries…I have personally benefited from the access provided to books and other cataloged materials, including films and historical archives, made available in public libraries…research papers as a high school student were completed because of access to public libraries…resumes written as a college student and grad were completed because of access to public libraries…as a child growing up in Camden, NJ I found safety and enjoyment during out-of-school-time in the public library. Now, more than ever, our residents need the public library for some of the same reasons.
Ironically, as I was walked to work after spending a few moments in front of City Hall marveling at folk who had staged a 24-hour reading I walked by two young sisters. As I hurried by, an older woman who apparently had a relationship with them asked, “…Where are y’all going?”
“To the library,” they replied gleefully.
I walked pondering the irony and decided to stop to talk with them for a bit. Check out the video.
Listening to the two young people gave me pause for reflection. Hope it does the same for you!