by Stan Cutler

Last Monday, a bitter cold day, we had to cancel the “Advocacy Café.” We had promoted the event in this space as a workshop for volunteers to learn ways of persuading the Mayor and City Council to adequately fund the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP). We had to cancel the event because the furnace quit, and the lights only worked in spots, forcing the library to close. It took until Tuesday afternoon before the library could reopen. The irony is painful.

Healthy organizations invest in preventive maintenance because it is cost-effective, cheaper and better in the long run than equipment replacement and repairs. When organizations fail, it often starts with a reduction in maintenance spending. Our library infrastructure is a network of 54 branches, the enormous, 90-year old Parkway Central building and six computer hot spots. The fact that all 60 facilities are open to the public most of the time is remarkable – a significant achievement that has required sincere dedication by the FLP’s workers. I thank them.

Our branch in Chestnut Hill was built 110 years ago and has been retrofit countless times. The building usually functions well; it is still a warm, welcoming place. But it is vulnerable to all the ills that result from inadequately resourced preventive maintenance. The FLP has never recovered from the funding crisis of 2008. Between fiscal years 2008 and 2010, the Free Library’s income from local, state and federal sources fell 19 percent. Every budget since then has used the 2008 allocation as a baseline.

Year after year, city allocations fail to rise. Library hours are shortened, salaries flatlined, staffing levels reduced and less is spent on inspection and prevention. Less than one percent of all city spending in the 2018-19 General Fund was allocated to the FLP . The FLP asked for an allocation of $63 million from the city’s fiscal year 2019-20 operating budget. In last Wednesday’s budget presentation, the Mayor proposed an allocation of $50 million, which is still less than one percent of the city’s total operating budget and far short of the FLP’s minimal needs.

Unscheduled shutdowns occur all over the city for reasons like the one that closed our branch last Monday and Tuesday. The day when branch libraries will be closed permanently because they are so badly deteriorated that money will no longer be available to repair them is not far off. What kind of enlightened society allows its libraries to fail? What kind of government assigns so little value to libraries? What kind of future are we creating?

Go to chlibraryfriends.org if you think a healthy library system is essential to a civilized community. We can use help from people like you. And we invite you to our innovative Spring semester of adult programming. We are excited about the experts we’ve lined up – all local folks with fascinating knowledge.

The Spring Lineup (8711 Germantown Ave.):

March 20, Wednesday, 6 p.m. – EARLY LITERACY with Christine Heimer, primary teacher with 40 years of experience, explains ways to turn children into avid readers

March 26, Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. – TRUTH VS. FAKE NEWS IN THE TRUMP ERA with Peter Lewis, former New York Times editor and Stanford University journalism faculty member, discusses the risks and challenges facing American citizens in the unstable media environment of the moment

April 9, Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. – MEDICAL MARIJUANA with Wanda Beilenson, pharmacist in Pennsylvania marijuana dispensary, who explains differences in cannabis types and prescription qualifications?

April 11, Thursday, 1:30 p.m. – THE NOVELS OF ELENA FERRANTE: SECRETS OF THEIR POWER with Karen Bojar, who reveals hidden dimensions of the sensationally popular “Neapolitan Quartet.” Bojar is a former Community College of Philadelphia literature and women’s studies professor, now an executive and city committeewoman

April 23, Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. – WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LENAPE? With Claude Epstein, former Stockton University professor and an expert on the impacts of European development on the Delaware Valley’s native people and natural resources

May 7, Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. – MUSIC AND MEMORY with Marja Kaisla, concert pianist and educator who reveals the latest findings on the remarkable power of music to inhibit the symptoms of dementia

Stan Cutler is a member of the board of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.

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