too close to home
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.)