|Libraries In A Bind
Dec. 31, 2002
(CBS) Seattle's libraries were forced to close for two weeks. Denver
doubled its late fees. And Sunday book browsing is out in Erie,
Libraries across the country are cutting staff and services because
of a budget crunch. Librarians say one of the most disturbing things
is that the cutbacks are occurring at a time when an increasing
number of people need libraries to help them find jobs.
"As the economic times get worse, library use has gone up,"
said Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association.
"The injustice of it is, here we are providing more service
with the same staff, and we're asked to cut our budgets."
Children's and school librarians are being laid off, weekend hours
are being cut and new book buying is out of the question.
The problem stems from tight state and local budgets. When cuts
need to be made, libraries are hard-pressed to compete against,
say, fire and police protection.
In Pennsylvania, Erie's main library will close on Sundays starting
in January. Further cuts are expected.
"We're just grinding our teeth over this," library coordinator
Mary Rennie said. "Sunday afternoon was a great time for families
to come down together."
Late fees at the Denver Public Library double to 20 cents a day
in 2003 to help cover a $410,000 budget cut.
Librarians say that in addition to job seekers, the cuts are hurting
students as well as homeless people who spend their days in the
Library patron Dennis Hunter, 46, who lives outside of Erie, said
that if libraries cut back, he can still get onto the Internet.
"But a lot of people just don't have the resources to make
do," he said.
Elsewhere around the country:
* The Public Library of Cincinnati planned to close five branches
in 2003, but after a public outcry decided to reduce staff and services.
* New York City, starting in October, reduced service at 67 of
its 85 branches to five days a week, from mostly six; its 2003 budget
was cut $16.2 million, or 14 percent, spokeswoman Nancy Donner said.
The cuts came despite a 7 percent rise in attendance since September
"The annual attendance of 40 million at the city's library
system is higher than that of all the city's cultural institutions
and professional sports teams combined," Donner said.
* In suburban Detroit, the Berkley Public Library plans to cut
hours and lay off its children's librarian, a 14-year veteran. "In
20 years I've never had to cut library hours," said director
Celia Morse said. "To cut them twice in one year is particularly
* Seattle shuttered its libraries for a week in August and December
and will do so again in 2003, spokeswoman Andra Addison said. The
budget has been cut $7 million in the last two years. Library workers
voted for the closings and are going without pay during the shutdowns
to avert job cuts.
"I don't think people understand what libraries do, and their
value to a city's economic and cultural health," Addison said.
"In a down economy, this is when people use books more."
An American Library Association-sponsored study released this year
found that circulation at 18 of the country's largest libraries
was up about 8 percent in 2001 over the average of the four previous
Freedman, the ALA president, said libraries' funding problems stem
from a lack of political clout. At its annual meeting in January
in Philadelphia, the ALA will launch a campaign to raise funds and
"We have to get a message across," vowed Freedman.
By Jason Straziuso © MMII The Associated Press.