As Benjamin Franklin rolled over in his grave, the Pennsylvania State Senate discussed Wednesday night whether all of Philadelphia’s 54 libraries will have to close on October 2. Mayor Michael Nutter’s Plan C, or “Doomsday,” budget will start to go into effect on Friday unless enough state senators vote to pass a 1% sales tax hike.
The plan, which the mayor describes as “devastating,” calls for all library employees to be laid off, and for all branches to cease operations. A sampling of the library services that will no longer be available: after-school programs for children and teens, computer classes, library visits to schools and community centers, and classes for job seekers and test-takers. The city Records department will also have to reduce public access to public records.
Where to begin? The shutdown of all the libraries in a major U.S. city would indeed devastate its population. In a sample letter to legislators, the Free Library of Philadelphia writes that the libraries provide needed homework help and a safe environment for students, as most Philadelphia public schools have no libraries. Job seekers and senior citizens use the library computers to conduct searches and access information about federal benefits and social security. Most of this information is now only found online, and for many Philadelphians, the library provides their only web access. Disadvantaged citizens will be most affected by these changes.
The library is the site where our freedoms of inquiry and expression are most respected, legally and symbolically. That Philadelphia has to consider closing its libraries’ doors is a shocking sign of the times–but only in Bizarro-Philadelphia should this really have to happen. The state legislature has until October 2 to vote on the tax hike bill that would prevent the five-year Plan C budget (which also removes all funding from the Arts Commission and cuts a total of 3,000 jobs) from taking full effect. But layoff notices will go out on Friday unless the Senate reaches a decision today.
Take action! Write a letter to the editor, blog, or twitter today to get the word out about this under-reported story. If you live in Pennsylvania, contact your state senators and representatives. The Philadelphia Free Library website has a link to their contact information, plus a sample letter.
UPDATE 9/18: The Senate did pass HB 1828 yesterday, allowing the libraries and other important services to remain open! However, Pennsylvania remains the only state that has not passed its budget; libraries in Philadelphia are still in serious danger of losing up to 55% of their funding.