Libraries are an important part of our society. They provide a variety of choices in books, music, movies, audio-books and research tomes as well as public Internet, children’s reading programs, meeting places and quiet places for reading or study. Through inter-library loan programs, you can order items that your library does not carry. In harder fiscal times, the libraries get used more. And instead of maintaining this treasure, our city now has less in the way of libraries.
The naysayers will point to the Internet as the cause of death of the library system. And yes, I will concede that information is at your fingertips with Google and Yahoo. People can even use the new portable readers, like Kindle. However, some people don’t even have access to the technology at home, and not everyone likes to stare at a computer screen. Besides, most of the people I know would rather curl up with a good book as a way to relax and unwind.
I grew up using the library branches. I attended St. Joseph school on the north end and I remember walking over to the North Branch as a class. I was introduced to Franklin the Turtle, the Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators this way. In the summers, we would go to the West Branch once a week. My mom taught my brother and me to be responsible by making us pay any overdue fines on our own library cards. In high school, I used the West Branch and the Main Branch to write my term papers. As an adult, I still use the library to check out audio-books and the books I can’t afford to buy anymore, and my wife and I take our 3-year-old daughter to the library and let her pick out her own books, which she greatly enjoys.
Now, the library branches are closed. It started with the mold problem at the North Branch before this group of aldermen was ever elected. In our first budget in 2008, I had to fight to get enough support to keep the remaining two branches open. Then in 2009, I had to fight again to keep the branches open on limited days. Now in 2010, I couldn’t get enough support to keep the West Branch (approx. $8,300 net savings) or the Southeast Branch (approx. $23,700 net savings) open. And many of the books at the former Southeast Branch were given away due to “lack of storage space.”
It saddens me to see this occur.
It was all for about $32,000. This is the net amount saved, because most of the costs remained: 1) no employees were laid off – all were transfered to the Main Branch; 2) the city owns the West Branch building, so we could not save on rent, like we did on the Southeast Branch; 3) the building temperature will still need to be regulated, so neither the books nor the building will be damaged; and 4) the grass will still need to be mowed.
So now, we have neighborhood kids who lost their only Internet access, retirees who lost a meeting spot, elderly who lost a convenient location with personal service, and schoolkids who lost a safe place to wait for their parents while working on homework. This is what the West Branch provided to the area around it.
In my opinion, if the city council and the mayor cannot run the library properly, so that it is a treasure for its community, then maybe we have no business running it at all. Maybe we should spin the library off into its own entity and have an elected library board similar to the Springfield Park District.
I know that people miss their branch libraries. I do.
Kris Theilen is a lifelong Springfield resident. In additon to being the Ward 8 alderman, he is a full-time union state employee at the Illinois Department of Public Health in the information technology department. He can be reached at Kris@TheilenForWard8.com.