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too close to home

This is not the news you want to wake up to on a Saturday morning.

I'll admit that, since leaving for college thirteen (ouch, I am old) years ago, I haven't paid all that much attention to the internal politics of my home state of Pennsylvania.  So I have somehow missed the massive state budget crisis that's been going on for quite a while now.

Admittedly, even if I had been paying attention, I doubt I would have really been able to wrap my ahead around what "massive state budget crisis" actually meant, for those of us not participating in marathon legislative horse-trading sessions.

Well, here's what it means: If a budget isn't passed in the next couple weeks, then the Philadelphia Library System will close.

All of it.  No central library, no branch libraries, no ESL classes, no computer literacy classes, no community meetings, no community outreach, no more books.

"Friday morning, signs went up on every entrance to every library in the city's system, from Central on down, reading thusly: All Free Library of Philadelphia Branch, Regional and Central Libraries will be Closed Effective Close of Business October 2, 2009."

Now, I don't know if this is an alarmist move intended to try to spook the legislators into passing a budget, or if, two weeks from now, Philadelphia will have no more libraries.  But I do know that I'm spooked.

I grew up in the Philadelphia libraries. (As well as Philly's suburban libraries. We pretty much went to a different library every day of the week when I was a kid.) I learned to read in the Philadelphia libraries. I learned to love reading in those libraries. I am, obviously, not the only one.

I could elaborate on this, a lot, and talk about how libraries function as gateways, as refuges and hideaways, as stepping stones, as beginnings, as schools, as temples of knowledge. How I used to stare at the "W" section of the stacks, vowing someday I'd see my name on one of the books. How disastrous it would be if the library system fell apart and how unacceptable it is for this kind of funding to fall through the cracks, even in such dire economic times.

But I'm not going to, because the longer this is, the less chance there is you'll keep going, and I want you to get to the important part -- what can you do.

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can contact your state legislator, and tell him or her to pass a damn budget.  This site tells you how, and even gives you a letter to print out and send.

I will admit I'm not to sure what those of us who don't live in PA can do, other than be loudly enraged. But if you've got a suggestion, let me know.

I know they're not threatening to close their doors forever. But the library explains why closing for even a few days matters:

"The resources and services we provide are essential to our community members, and usage of the Library has increased dramatically. Job seekers use free public computers for job searches, children seek out safe havens with homework help, and seniors rely on the Library to access information about social security and other federal benefits— information that is now found only online. The Free Library of Philadelphia also provides hundreds of public-access computers with free internet service, a resource highly valued in a city where almost half of the citizens are without internet access at home."

Philadelphia, like most cities right now, needs more, not less. More of everything--but especially more of this.  Access, resources, knowledge. Books.

(Edited to add: The commenter below knows a lot more about this than I do, and has left me somewhat terrified for the fate of my hometown.)


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 12th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)
Philly Libraries, and More
This has been going on for months, and the papers have been covering it daily. The articles are there, but they're not just focused on libraries, since they're just one part of the city's "Doomsday" plan.

If the state senate doesn't approve a one-cent increase to the city sales tax and a deferment for pensions, the Plan C city budget will take effect on Oct. 2. That plan includes closing all libraries AND recreation centers, eliminating park maintenance, reducing trash pickup by half, and closing many other city departments and city-sponsored cultural organizations. I've even seen some indications that the district attorney and public defender's offices would cease to operate!?!

The original doomsday deadline was August 15, but Mayor Nutter extended it until after Labor Day, and now the city is actually starting the process of shutting down everything. Just this morning I got a robocall about the new trash schedule. And the library branches have already been closing occasionally for understaffing from what I have to assume was an earlier round of layoffs.

While libraries are definitely high on my personal list, it's not the only thing that scares me about this budget impasse. Let's hope the PA Senate approves the Philly-specific bill the House sent over to them yesterday.

-Liz Encarnacion, Philly resident and book editor
Sep. 12th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Oh my God! You can't close libraries (well, technically you can, but it just isn't right)! I'd close everything else before even considering closing a library.
I love books. A lot. Every time I go to the library I come back with a stack of books half my wieght, half of them I never get to in that two weeks.
I'm your neighbor (I live in Ohio) and that makes me worry for my state. I hope something is done in PA so that the libraries never close.
Sep. 12th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
This is insane.

I've been reading for years of the troubles and travails of getting the public library and school system properly funded in the Medina, Ohio region thanks to Tony Isabella's columns.

This situation with Philadelphia, of all places, would top the Troubles of Medina.
Sep. 12th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
I actually just moved to Philadelphia earlier this week,and am still getting settled in. I was horrified to see this post. I'm not sure that I'm actually considered a Philadelphia (or even PA in general)resident yet, but if I'm able to write a letter, I certainly will.

Thanks for sharing this alarming news.
Sep. 13th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
Dwight mentioned the above to me, asking for confirmation, which I did, along with spinning it out into the overall state budget battle that's rolling on. They're getting closer, and Mayor Nutter's request for a 1% tax increase inside Philadelphia seems likely to be approved based on what I heard yesterday.

In general I'd agree that the new report is intended to be alarmist -- understandably, there's an interest in getting this settled ASAP, and making a loud, threatening noise to get people's attention hopefully some action.

The last report I saw from this afternoon
...shows that while the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Governor Rendell are getting closer, there remain both ideological and accounting differences. I suspect it'll be settled this upcoming week, but I would venture that some are more intent on casting anything Democratic in a bad light than they are in really serving the people of Pennsylvania.

I've lived out in various suburbs of Philadelphia since '67, but in many ways it's remained Somewhere Else. I cannot vote in Philadelphia's mayoral, etc. elections, and it's set up very much as its own place, and consequently I don't follow the city's politics. However, the city's budget crisis has been ongoing, and there were already cuts made to library and public pool facilities this summer, probably among other services.

I go into the city two, perhaps three days out of each year, and wouldn't be interested in living there (or any other major city I've ever visited - from there to Chicago to Washington and London, among others -- as I would likely become homicidal. I need a bit more space around me.

Mike N.
Sep. 13th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC)
This is so sickening, disturbing, just wrong. Libraries are essential. If anyone comes up with a way for us outside the US to help, please please let us know. This is so saddening. Thank you for letting us know about this Robin, the more people that know about this, the more minds will be set on finding some way out of this.
Sep. 13th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
Daaaammmmmm that is scary! And all because they won't approve a one cent increase in taxes? Never has the phrase "penny pinchers" been more appropriate. I worked as a paid volunteer (um, best way to put it I guess, was paid through a program but did work a volunteer would) in one of the branch libraries this summer and they were so sad to see me go in August since they needed the help so much. And I worked in the main libraries coffee shop as a volunteer for the two summers before that so I know that libraries (at least in my town) always have money issues, there are no wealthy times for them.
And it's scary to think, not only is the public not going to have access to all of these books, but none of the computers (and everything that entails), or other programs the library puts on. So many people use the libraries everyday that this feels so silly to shut them down, I really hope this is prevented.
Sep. 13th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
Err, just realized that it may not have been clear that I DO NOT live in Philly, I live in NC (need to remember to put more proper nouns in my sentences...).
Sep. 13th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
problem solved.
Sep. 16th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)

My dad works for the House Appropriation Committee and has been dealing with this whole budget mess for months. Here is what he says about the situation. It is sobering:

"At this point (78 days without a budget) there is not much anyone in the public can do. Three caucuses (House Democrats, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans have reached a budget agreement on the amount of spending and the revenues to support that spending. However, the governor has not agreed to their proposal. Closed door negotiations are continuing with the governor who wants some different spending and does not think the proposed revenues can be justified. The governor has warned that if they send him their budget, he will veto it. And they have threatened to override his veto. From what I understand the negotiating parties are narrowing their differences and it may take several more days to work it out.

But the real threat to the libraries is not so much the state budget directly but HB 1828, what is called the Philadelphia Bail Out Bill. The city is in serious financial trouble and has asked the Legislature to allow it to increase the sales tax to 8% for five years and to postpone its contributions to the municipal pension fund for two years, all of which would save about $700 million. The bill passed the House but the Senate made significant changes, using the opportunity to make it a pension reform bill, which is desperately needed for the 3,000 state municipalities, many of which are seriously underfunded. When the bill was returned to the House with the Senate's amendments, the House amended the Senate's amendments and took out most of the pension reform language that was vehemently opposed by labor unions and sent the bill back to the Senate. Here's the problem: If the bill is not adopted by the 18th, the city must begin layoffs of 3,000 employees, including police and firefighters, close libraries and parks and other social services. This would be mandated because Philadelphia's fiscal affairs are largely controlled an independent state board created to help the city become solvent. The city had to present this board (PICA) with a draconian plan by the 18th if the bill is not enacted by then in order to balance the city's spending with available revenues.

This is complicated by the Senate's insistence that the state budget be resolved first and then they will consider HB 1828."

So I don't know how the libraries can be saved but I'm sure that writing letters, making calls, and letting lawmakers know we care is still important.

Anyway, really enjoying Skinned! I think of it as the granddaughter of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It really takes Dick's examination of what is means to be human to the next level. Congrats!

--Heather in Front Royal, VA
Sep. 23rd, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
Losing our public libraries would just be devasting! The same thing is happeing here in my little town in FL. We may lose all funding! It makes me so angry I could just spit and i'm not a spitting kinda girl! (I know..shocking for FL, but I have NY roots) Anyways, I digress..

This is HORRIBLE!! Healthcare is horrible! Our education system is horrible! I was mad enough about that and now this! My head is throbbing. I may just burst a blood vessel! Good Heavens what is GOING ON here!
Dec. 7th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
a h ha
Not going to lie I was just listening to a productivty coach who speaks about ideas just like the ones you speak of.

In his video he talks about "Breaking through" and pain as a motivator in the everyday. Time is short and time runs out before you know it. You wanna be doing the most meaningful things in your life and who doesnt feel that way especially nowadays. Check out this valuable video if your looking for another persepctive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze0BSoKoXxw&feature=related

Hes also got a blog @ http://calmcoolproductive.com/6-biggest-things-you-procrastinate.html

Onward and Upward!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
I'm the author of several novels for teens, including HACKING HARVARD, the CHASING YESTERDAY trilogy, and the SEVEN DEADLY SINS series.

My newest book, SKINNED, comes out in September 2008.

Also, I like cupcakes.