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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 05:52 pm

Don’t close library branches

These precious community resources are needed now more than ever

Today we hear that 1.55 million jobs in the U.S. were lost during the last six months, and 3,000 jobs were lost within Sangamon County during the last five years. People have been hit hard and income is shrinking or gone. We need a haven that provides us with support — for entertainment, research, job searching and helping students of all ages to gain their degrees. Libraries encourage literacy programs and are one of the only places that provides a computer with Internet access, thus fighting to bridge the digital divide.

So why is it that during every Springfield city budget crisis, or whenever discretionary tax revenues decrease, we are hearing a call to reduce public library services? Why does this make any sense, given that during hard times our public library grows in importance? Clearly, if branches were consistently open more evening and weekend hours they would be available for the 9-to-5 worker, and individuals and families would make greater use of library services.

Literacy for all is an imperative goal for libraries. Libraries offer to proctor tests for students taking online courses, providing the student with a free and easily accessible space. Libraries create book clubs that bring people together with similar interests. Reading programs, such as family programs in the summer and winter months, unite families and encourage them to appreciate the benefits of reading together, and motivate schoolchildren to continue reading during the summer months. Reference service is available to individuals of all ages, and homework guidance is provided. Libraries help people who may otherwise fall through the cracks in the system.

Our city’s leadership needs to find a permanent solution that ends this misguided dispute over branch library funding. It is time that we recognize the public library branches as a precious community resource. How can we contemplate closing branch libraries to save approximately $370,000 at the same time that the mayor advocates spending a similar sum (or overall a greater sum) this year in saving the Maisenbacher home? If the city is going to bank upon using anticipated profits from the new Dallman power plant this year — and possibly every year — to supplement city services, why can’t branch libraries be incorporated into that budget?

Many state libraries are going broke as budgets decrease. School librarians’ salaries are often cut when income from school tax revenue decreases. These are bad public policy decisions. Dramatically reducing access to public libraries leaves a hole in our social fabric.

Patricia Erford is library specialist at Brookens Library, University of Illinois at Springfield. She is a former director of West Sangamon Public Library District, Springfield.

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