Speaking up for libraries

The city of Duluth is in a really bad budget crunch.  Even at the height of the housing bubble, we were in deep financial trouble – it’s a long story involving promises made in the 1970s, not budgeted for since, and now coming due.  Then Governor Pawlenty unalloted money the city was counting on, tax revenues fell because people had less money, employment fell because people didn’t spend money, and so it goes. Downward.

It’s a terrible time to be making a city budget.   No one wants to cut fire or police.   We already took some drastic cut-backs with snowplowing last year. They’ve slashed the public library’s staffing budget so much that the two branch libraries are only open 2 days a week each.  The latest proposed budget cuts $60,000 from the books and materials budget, and permanently wipes out the positions which were being left unfilled but on the list, in essence making this low level of funding the “new normal.”

I have a lot of empathy for the Mayor Don Ness and the City Council taht have to deal with these dreadful economic times.  I’d pretty much like to just let them figure out the best way to go, and accept it: they have a bigger picture than I do.

But that’s not the way city government works. Everyone from the Zoo on up is advocating for its programs.  So tonight I was one of three who went to the City Council to speak up for the needs of the library.  One of the others (a writer) was quite eloquent, calling attention to the public library as the resource that equalizes opportunity between income groups, closes the digital divide, gives kids from poor families the same chance to read books as kids from richer families.

I found out later that this may have been a first for members of the Library Board – and I was glad to have brought up the possibility a few meetings ago.  I’m not entire comfortable with the notion that somehow lobbying creates the best result because the groups with the  most energy behind them will be the ones who exert the most influence – energy and wisdom are not the same thing.  Still, when it comes to books and the library, I guess I’ll jostle along with the rest of them.

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