Friday, May 06, 2005

Mommy, why is the Library Out of Money?

There we were, walking down the street, when this little voice pipes up from the stroller. "Mommy, why is the library out of money?" How does one explain federal cutbacks, state budgets and local politicking to a two-year-old?

So tonight, I'll brush off my college political activist credentials and wander down to my local library to testify at the Town Hall meeting as follows:

I urge restoration of this library to its former hours and staffing, for the benefit of the children and families of this neighborhood.

One of the best features of this library is its children’s section, in particular its offerings for preschool children. Everyone here tonight is well aware of the importance of early access to books for children who are learning to read. As parents in this community, we were pleased to have a library with a strong children’s section, as our local branch library. We particularly appreciated the wonderful preschool aged software on the computers and we have made use of the children's story hours and children’s libarian.

The cuts to this library (both the cuts to its professional library staff and the limited hours) have virtually eliminated the ability of my family and my child's nursery school to make use of this educational resource.

Prior to the cuts, the older children from the nursery school visited the library on a monthly basis for story hour with the librarians. The librarians worked in partnership with the teachers to read to the children and to guide them in their selection of books. Since the professional staff has been cut from the library and the hours limited, the school has not been able to take its students to the library.

Even more importantly, many of the children also used to visit this library with their families. Before the hours were cut back, families would regularly stop at the library on Monday and Wednesday evenings. For working parents, an “express” library branch that closes at 5:00 p.m. is essentially a closed library.

I am lucky; I have a part-time work schedule. I am able to be at home with my son on Fridays. Nevertheless, the “express” hours do not work for me, or for most parents of preschool children. Preschool children nap in the afternoons, during that four-hour period when the library is open. Without longer service on Saturdays and evening hours, we have been unable to take our son to the library.

This neighborhood relies on the for books, and also as a source of neighborhood connections. The sense of community within the city is enhanced by having a full-service library branch. We regularly ran into our friends from the neighborhood and from school during our evening and weekend visits.

This city has been losing population in recent years, and particularly has been losing middle-class families. We and our neighbors have committed to remain in the city and raise our family here, but it often seems like the City is not particularly committed to keeping us. We have already resigned ourselves to the intricate choreography that we will have to go through to give our son a quality education. We have had to fight to keep our recreation center open and now we have essentially lost our local library branch.

Off my soapbox now.

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