Is Chicago beginning to phase out libraries?
Branch libraries will now be closed on Mondays, according to a message posted on the Chicago Public Library’s Facebook page. The Harold Washington Library and the two regional libraries -- Sulzer and Woodson -- will still be open seven days a week.
This announcement comes two months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he had found money to avoid cuts in library hours. According to a November press release from the city, the mayor’s budget was amended to include the following:
Restoring $3.3 million to the library budget to allow for a full six-day-a-week schedule when school is out, during the summer months and over holiday breaks, providing children with more library access when they are away from school.
The reduced schedule on Monday and Friday mornings will resume during the school year with agreement from the unions. The move will restore more than 100 of the planned library layoffs.
The library now allows electronic book downloads, so it’s open 24 hours a day if you own a Nook, a Kindle or an iPad. But closing the library on Mondays -- one of the busiest days of the week, according to many librarians -- will widen the knowledge gap between those who can afford computers and e-readers, and those who depend on public libraries for their Internet access, their newspapers, their magazines and their books. That’s one afternoon a week when kids from computer-less households can’t do Internet research after school. Reading should not become an activity for the elite only. It’s an unfortunate budget choice by a mayor who says that improving education is his administration’s mission.
Consider this defense of the library by Philip Pullman, author of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy:
One of the few things that make life bearable for the young mother … is a weekly story session in the local library, the one just down the road. She can go there with the toddler and the baby and sit in the warmth, in a place that’s clean and safe and friendly, a place that makes her and the children welcome.
I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.
The libraries aren’t all going to close at once. But they’re disappearing a few hours, a few days at a time.
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