Camden is preparing to permanently shut its library system by the end of the year, potentially leaving residents of the impoverished city among the few in the United States unable to borrow a library book free.
At an emotional but sparsely attended meeting of the library board Thursday, its president, Martin McKernan, said the city’s three libraries cannot stay open past Dec. 31 because of severe budget cuts by Mayor Dana L. Redd.
“It’s extraordinary, it’s appalling,” McKernan said.
All materials in the libraries would be donated, auctioned, stored, or destroyed. That includes 187,000 books, historical documents, artifacts, and electronic equipment. Keeping materials in the shuttered buildings is a fire hazard, officials said, and would make them vulnerable to vandalism and vermin.
It sucks buckets that libraries get a pass when it comes to governments setting aside funding to operate them. It seems there’s always more money in the coffer to throw at a football team or whatever, but when it comes to something that can improve life and education across the board people turn their noses away and claim libraries have no purpose anymore.
You’re damn fucking straight they do. They aren’t just book depositories anymore. A good majority of them are well into the computer age and eager to adapt any and all technology that will improve the way they function and the ease by which patrons can get what they need for free (or at least minimal cost).
But the problem for Camden, PA isn’t a mayor without a library card (doesn’t say she has one, but I don’t think our mayor bothered getting one) and no interest in keeping the thing running.
Redd is facing a $28 million projected deficit stemming from reductions in state aid and a long-standing lack of taxable property. She is planning deep cuts in all departments, and she told McKernan last month that she would slash funding to the 105-year-old library system by about two-thirds.
Because not even one of the three libraries could stay open in 2011 on such limited support, all 21 employees would be laid off, McKernan said.
Redd left open the possibility that the libraries could be saved.
“The citizens are first, and the libraries are on the top of the list as we struggle through our budget,” Redd said. “I was elected during challenging times to find solutions. I understand I may be a target of a number of comments, but I have to construct the budget.”
She said she was not responsible for the closings. “That is a decision of the library board.”
It also turns out that there’s a thing in the official city books earmarking upwards of $390,000 for the library, which is more than what was initially thought available, but it still wouldn’t be enough to keep even one branch functional.
In a city where less than a third of people have high-speed Internet service in their homes, according to the research group CamConnect, libraries allow people to go online, do schoolwork, and look for jobs. Closing the three branches would end the more than 150,000 annual visits – along with the daily chess games and children’s book readings. During extreme weather, the facilities provide a respite for the homeless.
People who never bother setting foot in a library don’t realize just how vital libraries are. Again – it’s not just about old books anymore. It’s a fucking lifeline for the people who need and rely on it – either for shelter on cold days, or for free internet job hunts. Libraries are vital.
In a back room, children’s librarian Robin Guenther presided over a reading with two dozen children. She said so far this summer, about 600 children have come in for story and crafts programs.
“Why isn’t Camden worthy of a library? How can you tell Camden, one of the poorest cities in the country, that they don’t deserve a library?” she asked.
Even closing the libraries would be a pricey proposition. The libraries contain historically valuable materials, including phone books dating to the 1880s and newspapers on microfilm from the 1870s. If the library board chooses to save the microfilm, it would cost as much as $11,000 a year. And if the library cannot find a donor for all of its books, it is considering renting seven Dumpsters for $6,230.
In 1904, Andrew Carnegie donated $100,000 for the first library to be built in Camden. That sum might be enough to save the library more than a century later.
Here’s hoping enough people read that article via Fark (as I did) and are in a position to send money Camden’s way. There’s no reason this town has to lose their library system. None at all.