Monday | July 28, 2003
Begging for books
By Steve Gilliard
Library in crisis has its hand out
For the first time, neighborhood branches are putting out donation boxes, in a desperate effort to offset budget cuts that mean 3,000 fewer books a year for each branch, reduced hours of operation and interminable waits for best sellers.
Sixty-seven of the 85 branch libraries are open only five days a week, something that hasn't happened since the city's fiscal crisis of the 1970s.
Public funding has been eliminated for the popular summer reading program, potentially shutting out about 100,000 youngsters, many of them latchkey kids.
Massive staff reductions through attrition - 10% of all full-time positions and 20% of hourly workers - and a systemwide hiring freeze have forced librarians to do jobs normally performed by clerks and student pages. Essential functions, from answering student queries to ensuring that rare books are properly preserved, fall through the cracks.
What is often forgotten is the key role that libraries play in civic life. They hire teenagers, they provide work information, they do a great deal which the public is unaware of. The fact that the city had to cut the library's budget has an economic effect which is far greater than you would think. In a lot of places, especially in NY, they serve as safe places for children to meet and socialize.
Instead of seeing the value of maintaining public institutions, the Bush Administration pushed through a tax cut which will quickly be swallowed up by massive hikes in local and state taxes. The Times makes this point today as well, by discussing how the nearly universal problems with state budgets are a drag on the economy.
A national recovery needs strong states to help it along. California is a fiscal wreck, Texas is a political mess, Florida another financial mess and New York crippled by the after effects of 9/11. All of the conflicts in these states and their financial instability makes a national recovery that much harder.
A much smarter solution would have been to restore federal aid to the states. It's not sexy, but it would have kept people working and provided a real boost to get out of this jobless recovery. As the economy continues to stagnate, and the cost of the war in Iraq goes up, the two issues may well merge in a very bad way, not just for Bush but for the GOP.Posted July 28, 2003 05:04 PM