Sunday, November 09, 2008

You Can't Increase Education and Remove Libraries

I like Michael Nutter and think he is doing a good job as mayor.

Mayor Nutter has some very admirable goals, as noted in "Nutter agenda blindsided by the economy," by Patrick Kerkstra and Marcia Gelbart (11/09):

But Nutter did not back off his most ambitious goals, such as halving the high school dropout rate within seven years, and doubling the city's four-year college-degree attainment rate within 10 years.

I agree with him wholeheartedly that decreasing the dropout rate and increasing the percentage of college graduates in the city would improve the area economy.

In response to the city's budget crunch the mayor has called for closing 11 branches of the Philadelphia Free Library. According to "Hoping for a happy nonending at branches," by Kathy Boccella, Inquirer (11/09):
The 11 are in mostly lower-income areas that have no other libraries nearby and where public schools do not have libraries of their own.

This is a problem. There are a number of examples of city's combining school and public libraries in tough budgets. There are some articles on this topic included in a bibliography on the Young Adult Library Services Association website. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction makes available Combined School and Public Libraries: Guidelines for Decision Making. School Library Media Research published an article on this, "School and Public Library Relationships: Essential Ingredients in Implementing Educational Reforms and Improving Student Learning," by Shirley Fitzgibbons.

However, closing public libraries in areas where there no school libraries simply leaves those areas completely disenfranchised. Even if there were laptops on every desk, which there most definitely are not at this point, that does not mean students would have access to books, databases, or printers to find the information they need to research science projects, find literary criticism, read historical documents, or look at maps. Let alone the myriad of other things they need. Where will they type papers and print them out. Where will they read magazines and newspapers? Not everything is online and without a doubt not everything is online for free. And who is going to show students how to use these resources. Teachers often know the literature of their own discipline well but are seldom versed in others or in the overall structure of information. That is one of the things librarians do.

If there are few places to cut the budget and libraries need to take a hit, then so be it, but the cuts should come from places that can afford them.


Ron Michael Zettlemoyer said...

I agree. And I'm surprised that I haven't seen much mention of the Philadelphia Library's grand expansion plans. They've been planning this for a while, and seem to be collecting a lot of private donations to renovate the Central Library. Does that make any sense at all anymore if we are closing eleven branches? I'd say put those plans on hold and use whatever money they've collected (and encourage further private donation) to keep the branches open. Granted, depending on how the money was collected, you might have some legal issue with collecting charitable donations for a particular project and redirecting them to a slightly different one, but it's just unconscionable to imagine making the central library look prettier while we close so many branches.

AboveAvgJane said...


I agree with all of your points. Nutter might ask the Friends to re-prioritize their fundraising in light of the financial circumstances, but donations already received might have been specifically earmarked for the Central Library project. It can get tricky.