Time to direct our voices to save our libraries

by Jan LeSuer
Posted 5/27/21

For those who care about libraries, about literacy, education, lifelong learning and the lost  year that Philadelphia school children have experienced, now is the time to raise our voices.

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Time to direct our voices to save our libraries

Posted

For those who care about libraries, about literacy, education, lifelong learning and the lost  year that Philadelphia school children have experienced, now is the time to raise our voices.

Important decisions are being made about the life of our libraries as the City of Philadelphia’s budget is set. Not only are the City’s libraries in serious danger, but the lost year our school children experienced could be ignored, dismissed and lost in the mists of time, which seems to be such as easy local habit. Year by year our branch libraries have suffered regular diminishment in service hours, staffing and the decay of our wonderful branch buildings. How many of us and our children know the disappointment of scaling the marble steps to the library only to find that once again it is closed, either through a lack of staff or because of a decrepit and unsafe building?

The federal government has recognized the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged our country and is meeting this local damage with $1.4 billion. Certainly, the lost year deserves some of that money by preserving our local library outposts which under normal circumstances meet the educational and literacy needs of thousands of Philadelphia children. We are asking that as a rearguard motion the city augment the Free Library of Philadelphia’s budget by $15 million this year.

Unfortunately, there is talk of a 20% cut in the current library budget.

How can a rare World Heritage Site, selected by UNESCO, allow one of its premier civic and cultural institutions to fall into such disrepair? In our own precious Carnegie building, the Chestnut Hill branch at 8711 Germantown Avenue, the library is sometimes closed because of a failing boiler/HVAC system. Water leaks from the roof into the children’s section, ceiling tiles fall from above in the meeting room. The staff room is too dangerous to be used. This branch, according to long established standards, should have three professional librarians. For years we have had one professional librarian, albeit a wonderful professional, to staff the library, a children’s librarian challenged to serve the entire community day in and day out. No wonder the doors are closed so often, even well before Covid.

These troubles are spread throughout the Philadelphia Free Library system. In neighborhoods without the financial wherewithal of Chestnut Hill, these desperately needed libraries suffer from severe staff shortages and building decay. Our voices must be raised at this critical moment. Please take some time to contact not only our district’s council member, Cindy Bass, but the other at-large council members. And, most of all, contact Mayor Kenney’s office to voice your concern for the lost year and a proper city response.

In this spirit, the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia, representing Friends groups from library branches throughout the City, is holding a rally in support of the library system on Wednesday, June 2 at 10 a.m. on the steps of the Parkway Central Library at 1901 Vine Street on Logan Square. Bring y our kids, bring your signs and, most importantly, bring your voices.

Chestnut Hill Resident Jan LeSuer is president of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.

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