In the wake of the COVID-19 economic catastrophe, all cities and states are having to face difficult financial decisions – and it is expected that budget cuts will be seen in many areas.
My home city, Birmingham, has announced that it is indefinitely furloughing 158 of its 211 library employees and only plans to reopen its Central Library branch at this time as a part of those budget cuts. It will continue curbside pickup at four library branches – and leave some 18 closed for the foreseeable future.
First, while the city of Birmingham IS in a financial crisis – like everyone else – it is worth noting that it has been in a greater crisis as well.
Per City-Data.com, the 2018 crime rate in Birmingham was 3.2 times higher than the national average. It is higher than 99.3% of cities in the US. In recent years, Birmingham has seen “increasing violent crime and decline of property crime.”
When searching Birmingham’s crime rate, this is the first thing that appears:
Earlier this week. the state fair had to be closed early due to fighting and difficulty controlling the crowd.
The city is definitely struggling with violence.
In this broad context, the positive impact of libraries in individual communities throughout the city does not need to be taken away.
The communities will be worse for it.
There are many specific losses to consider with taking libraries from communities as well.
Obviously, there is impact on the 158 individuals and families who are now facing job loss in an already uncertain time.
Then, there also needs to be consideration for the many children who go to the library after school to do their school work until their parents are home. This will no longer be an option and they may be less safe for it.
Also, many people in each community use library services, like wifi and computers, that will no longer be available to them. This may also have a negative impact on children who needed those resources for online schooling this year.
Too, in many communities, libraries hold important offerings like language classes and resume prep seminars. These services are invaluable to those who need them.
And what of children (and adults) who are veracious readers – and aren’t able to go to one of the designated four libraries for pickup or to the central library to check books out? Some people don’t have transportation available to them and for some children the community library is central to their education and development.
As there is no clear end to this, it will likely also result in the death of the Summer Reading Programs that I so loved as a child.
In fact, as a child, I relied on both my school and my community library as well as the used bookstore my Grandmother took me to frequently for my books – and can’t imagine not having had them all. They were all SO important to me.
Finally, in a time when some of our leaders seem to think truth is whatever they want it to be and history feels like it is being repeated in ugly ways, I can’t think of anything more important to the wellbeing of society than keeping truth and history and literature and the free exchange of ideas readily available and accessible to everyone.
I am just heartsick for my city to see this happening.
While it has been presented as an unfortunate budget cut, it really is so much more.
I hope and pray that its leaders will consider all of these impacts and find another way.
Be well, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Grace and Blessings.