This Thing Called Courage

Sunday, May 27, 2007

An Appalling Development

THIS IS FROM TODAY'S BOSTON GLOBE, and it sure is troubling and outrageous. People will hurl themselves into enormous credit card debt to acquire the massive plasma TV and the latest behemoth-on-wheels, but ask them to pay more taxes so that the local library can still function, or the schools can remain accreditted, and the resounding howls are deafening. We have lost our sense of a 'common weal,' of coming together to do good things for We the People as a community. Greed is Good and I'm Gonna Get Mine seems to be the order of the day as we continue to polarize as a society, encouraged (directly or indirectly) by this out-of-control consumerist society in which we find ourselves, and the electing of demagogues, ex-Hollywood 'stars,' and the utterly incompetent. There are just so many things wrong with this, I don't know where to begin. How is it we have half a trillion dollars to go kill people halfway around the world for the sake of corporate profit, and we can't keep open our own local libraries? We need more librarians in this country and fewer soldiers, tanks, and warplanes. Next time we try to 'democratize' a country (what a joke, that!) maybe we should bomb them with books instead of cluster bumbs. Certainly the results wouldn't be any worse than they are now.

Here's the article below. In other news, Fionn and I took a wonderful six mile hike last night, and saw the first dazzling fire fly dance. (We also had a friendly encounter with a skunk, watched the bats cavorting, and heard the first crickets.) Later in bed, as I was falling asleep, I kept seeing these odd flashes of light in my room. At first I thought it was car headlights streaming across my ceiling-- until I realized a firefly was in my room, giving me my own personal light show. I can't tell you how magical that was.

Cuts put towns' libraries at risk

Boston Globe
NORTHBRIDGE -- The Northbridge public library was built to last with marble floors, cast-iron book shelves, and thick, gray granite walls. And just in case anyone ever forgot, the founders made their intentions clear in 1914 on a bronze plaque outside. The library, they said, was to be "maintained forever."

Keith O'Brien
May 27, 2007
Cuts put towns' libraries at risk
With less revenue, many scaling back
By Keith O'Brien, Globe Staff May 27, 2007
NORTHBRIDGE -- The Northbridge public library was built to last with marble floors, cast-iron book shelves, and thick, gray granite walls. And just in case anyone ever forgot, the founders made their intentions clear in 1914 on a bronze plaque outside. The library, they said, was to be "maintained forever."
But even forever has a bottom line. And yesterday, budget cuts and voter indifference in Northbridge finally caught up with the institution officially known as the Whitinsville Social Library. Its doors closed at 2 p.m. And though they will reopen again this week, people in Northbridge, population 13,100, will notice a difference.
The town cannot afford the $200,000 needed to keep the library fully running for another year. Once open 40 hours a week, it will be open just 12 hours starting this week. Six of the library's nine employees, including both full time librarians, are out of work starting today. The Whitinsville Social Library will not be a library so much as it will be an isolated house of books, cut off from the state public library system and funded solely by private money left to the library over the years.
There will be no children's story time. No summer reading program. No Internet access. And no way to borrow books from other public libraries. The library, founded in 1844, has become what it once was: an outpost.
The readers in Northbridge, though, are not suffering alone. Strapped for cash, towns in Massachusetts, including Saugus, Medway, and Gloucester, are doing what many consider unthinkable.
They are targeting the library, outraging readers in a state that boasts of its intellectual capital, and leaving a few not-so-silent librarians fighting for the right to borrow books in their towns.
"A library in a town is really the center of literacy," said John Rauth , chairman of the board of trustees of the Whitinsville Social Library. "And it's really a blow to the culture of a town to lose that access."
The problem Northbridge faces is not unique. From Randolph to Newbury, Ashland to Wrentham, library directors have been struggling in recent years, facing cutback after cutback.
The reason is simple economics. With health care costs, fixed costs, and utility rates rising, and revenue flat or shrinking, many towns are forced to make difficult choices or ask voters to approve property tax overrides.
The voters, many of whom are getting their information from the Internet, are not always sympathetic. In Northbridge two weeks ago, 59 percent of voters opposed a $3.7 million property tax override, effectively deciding they would rather see deep cuts at the library and schools than pay, on average, $728 in increased taxes this year.
Voters in Saugus made a similar decision this year -- and with similar results. The Saugus Public Library, though still funded through the end of this fiscal year, will close its doors Tuesday, needing time to prepare the building to be shuttered by the end of June. And Medway's library, though still open, is cut off from the state library system, just like Northbridge, after an override failed last spring and the library budget was gutted.
In the library world, this is called "decertification" and, for locals in places like Medway and Northbridge, it's no small penance. A decertified library is not part of the public library system. It may remain open, but the people who live in that town are unable to borrow or request books from other libraries.
Randolph's public library, the Turner Free Library, suffered that fate last year. With a larger budget behind it in the new fiscal year, Randolph now expects to regain certified status. But there are plenty of other ways a library can struggle. Gloucester lost its bookmobile three years ago. And when an override failed there in April, the library director quit in disgust. The acting library director, Carol Gray , says the next thing to be cut in Gloucester, if needed, would be evening hours at the children's library.
Meanwhile, hours of operation have been shrinking at libraries in Ashland, Wrentham, Melrose, and Holliston, just to name a few. Leslie McDonnell , the library director in Holliston, said she had no choice but to trim hours. Utility costs there have more than doubled since 2002.
"It's astronomical, the energy costs," she said. "So, as a result of these kinds of things, there's no padding anymore."
David Gray, spokesman for the Massachusetts Board of Library Directors, said there is really no simple, statewide solution. Since libraries are primarily funded by the town or city that they are in, it is incumbent upon the town to step up and find a way to keep the library running and fully staffed.
"We sort of have a saying in our office that every community gets the library that it deserves. And that sort of means, if there's support, the library is often well maintained. And if there isn't support, the library often doesn't get the staff, hours, and materials it needs," Gray said.
Towns are often forced to choose between providing free access to books or hiring a couple more firefighters or police officers. Saugus town manager Andrew Bisignani said public safety has to come first. In the cold, mathematical world of budgets, public libraries have a label they cannot shake. They are a "non essential service."
"People are looking at the cost, the price, because with diminished budgets, every dollar counts," said Mary Rose Quinn , the library director in Saugus. "But what's forgotten is that the value that we offer far exceeds anything that anybody pays."
For librarians like Quinn, this is personal. As they see it, this is Massachusetts, home of the first lending library, opened in Franklin, in 1790 , with books donated by Benjamin Franklin. This is a state that prides itself on higher education and boasts a higher percentage of college-educated adults than any other state in the United States. Here, among all places, libraries are being targeted?
"It's not supposed to happen," said Wendy Rowe , chairwoman of the board of library trustees in Medway. The beauty of the public library, she said, is that it is always there and it is for everyone.
"That's the thing that really gets to me," said Rowe. "Libraries are the soul of the community. They're community centers -- not just books. And anybody can go to it. Not just school-aged kids or seniors. Everybody is welcome to come. . . . And [in Medway] it was open more than most things in town. At least it was."
That changed last year. After budget cuts, Medway slashed library hours from 40 to 20 hours a week. The staff, once 11 people, became three. The library there now is without a library director and a janitor. Rowe does both jobs.
"I can clean," she said. But so far she has been unable to convince voters or town officials about the importance of the library. Meanwhile, in Saugus, Quinn is preparing for an even more troubling end. As it stands right now, the Saugus library has no funding for the 2007-08 fiscal year.
"We're hoping for some reprieve," Quinn said. "Some miracle."
For Saugus, that could be a trash fee. If approved by the town selectmen next month, residents would be charged $104 annually for trash collection, raising about $1 million for the town, and the Saugus library could remain at least partly open. But the hour of miracles has passed for the library in Northbridge.
Yesterday, in the waning hours of operation there, people came in to return books and say good bye to the librarians who are leaving.
There was Jim Furrey , who claims to check out more books than anyone else in town, and Paul Ostrosky , who comes to use the Internet.
There was Dot Lane , 82, who said she has been crying over her library, and Fred Erickson, 91, and his wife, Dot, 87, who have been coming to the library for 60 years.
"This is sad," said Dot Erickson. "This is sad to have this happen to this beautiful library. What are you going to do about it? Not a darn thing."
The Ericksons know times are tough in Northbridge. The schools, the senior center, the police and fire departments -- they are all facing cuts. But the Ericksons will especially miss the library.
"Goodbye, everybody," Dot Erickson said as she and her husband edged toward the door. She said she has just one wish for the library.
"I hope it's open again before we die."


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