Sunday morning I awoke with great aspirations for the day: research, job hunt, yoga, get milk, and most importantly, get myself out of the overdue library book delinquency that I find myself in more often than not. My first stop-Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Sunset Park branch to return my three unfinished classic books to avoid my $6.85 fine from spiraling upward.
No, that isn’t even the end of my library book hoarding, I still had three more in my backpack to return to the Manhattan library system. Even though I wasn’t elated about the idea of having to go to the forgiving librarian at the counter with my new books to check out explaining some reason I couldn’t pay my $8.50 fine on this certain day, I was still thrilled to have the time to make my way to the Mid-Manhattan location. As a post-grad volunteer, getting a library card has almost brought me to as many places and has entertained me almost as much as my monthly Metrocards.
Every day I have ample time and can deviate from my work and community schedule, I anticipate walking through the rows of shelves, seeing the multi-colored covers, reading the alluring titles, running my fingers through the crisp or worn pages to find the right book(s) to take home with me. Back in my community, I am always reminded that I am not the only post-grad volunteer who misses being surrounded by books, and filled with new adventures or perspectives as my roommates always share a new book suggestion or thought-provoking synopsis. Without the Brooklyn and Manhattan branches, I wouldn’t have been able to fill many of my long commutes and lazy nights with classic works, travel novels, feminist theory, nerdy sociology, or tips on digital photography.
This morning I walked into my favorite library without a book in mind and hopes of a book choosing me instead, and I was greeted by a small, welcoming, white-haired librarian asking me, “Hello, would you like to sign a letter for the library?”
Instantly, my mind darted back to the email I received earlier in the week from the BPL stating that they may be facing $25 million(!) in budget cuts.
Without pause, I picked up a pencil and started filling in my contact information and probed her with questions about the proposed cuts for the Manhattan system.
Even though she probably explained the dire situation to tens of people before me, with passion and attentiveness in her voice she explained, “The city has proposed $40 million in budget cuts, which would close 12 of our library locations. Of the locations left, they would only be open four days a week. This also results in cutting our full-time staff’s hours down to part-time status and we will have to lay off 687 current staff.”
After signing my name, I read over the flyer she handed me that revealed other library offerings that were on the chopping block in the wake of the crippling cuts-
- 380,000 fewer slots for children’s classes and programs, 3.1 million fewer children’s items
- 9,300 fewer programs for kids and teens
- 14,200 fewer slots for career counseling and job classes for adults
- $1.9 million fewer computer sessions
- $3.7 million fewer visits to libraries
Putting this into perspective, 1 in 4 of these patrons have ZERO alternatives to services the library offers.
Not only is this a cause for concern because of all the immediate problems explained above, one has to consider the compounding problems that can result from this grave decision.
New York is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Within 300 miles, the global economic system is emulated through Manhattan and the Boroughs. According to a March 30, 2011 NYDailyNews article by Albor Ruiz,”While for hundreds of thousands of people putting food on the table is a daily struggle, Forbes magazine reported that New York is home to more billionaires – 58 – than any city in the U.S.”
The article also sheds light on the facts that, “With the state facing a $10 billion deficit, effective action to alleviate the hunger crisis is a long shot. What should be expected are Draconian cuts to education, health care and other social services….The coming months will be the usual smooth sailing for the richest New Yorkers, but the majority of city residents will find themselves struggling to stay afloat in even rougher economic waters.”
With the New York school system already in dire need of reform that will not and cannot happen fast enough, a quality education has become so much more of a privilege for the select already well-off few and less of a right for those not born into stellar circumstances. How does the government expect to ensure a democracy without healthy, employed, well-educated, informed and politically engaged citizens without access to any resources? Without an education, the marginalized have less of a voice in the political system and face even more problems securing their basic needs.
Our country was founded upon the principles that everyone would have the ability to govern themselves, behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their own actions. This is the true meaning of liberty that is taken away when those in power lack their own individual responsibility, institute bad government policy, exploit people and businesses with power and influence.
Taking our libraries away is one more step in taking our liberties away. Cutting our resources not only jeopardizes our equality but jeopardizes our health and vitality as a nation. Having a government that is less hesitant about slashing funds for healthcare, education and social services than extending a millionaire tax seriously needs to reevaluate.
Give us our libraries, or you might as well give us death.