In 19 years in office, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has built or renovated 45 libraries in the city. The cities of Seattle, Denver, San Antonio and a host of others have also opened or remodeled libraries.
The mayors of these cities understand the importance of urban libraries, perhaps a bit more than Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and the city council do.
The Hartford Public Library this week is closing two branches, one in Blue Hills and the other in Asylum Hill, and laying off 40 full- and part-time employees to help close an $875,000 budget deficit. In addition, some services for children, adults and immigrants are being cut.
It is hard to believe that in a city budget of $547 million, which includes more than $21 million in new spending, there isn't enough money to prevent the closing of library branches.
In the urban environment, libraries level the field by making information available to whomever seeks it, rich or poor. Libraries provide countless immigrants with their first introduction to American government and history. By being a nonpartisan provider of information, libraries are an adjunct of democracy.
Libraries support school learning as well as lifetime learning. Library arts programs are sometimes the only such programs available to city residents. The branch libraries are a safe haven for youngsters, sometimes the only safe haven.
Mayor Perez urged the library to use some of its $14 million endowment. That is a terrible idea. Three-fourths of the endowment is used for general library support already; the other fourth goes to buy books. To raid it would be terribly shortsighted.
The mayor and council should go back and find the money. The $8.2 million library budget is less than 1.5 percent of the city budget. Would that more of the budget were so well spent.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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