With a controlled, even voice, Jim Findlay announced to 18 Broward Public Library Foundation board members that upon his upcoming retirement, the county will not seek a replacement for his vacant curator spot at Bienes Museum of the Modern Book, the museum located on the sixth floor of the Main Library. As I heard Mr. Findlay breath each word with a hint of marked sadness at last week’s board meeting, I couldn’t help but think, wow, this is the personification of a double-whammy: Cutting back a museum’s staff and, just as bad, cutting back on a library’s staff.
During the short life span of this blog, I’ve tried keeping topics lighthearted and trivial. For me, that type of narrative comes easiest. But this time, sorry Charlie, I’ve got to speak about something that hits close to home.
The way I see it, not only has the county decided to cut funding toward arts and culture, with targets set at the Bienes Museum at the Main Library, it’s made our public library system innately inferior to its potential, poorly servicing our citizens. Blame it on economic woes, budget cuts, whatever, but the fundamental right to read and learn is taking a multi-year back seat with little end in sight.
During the past three years, our public library system has cut its staff by one-third (324 jobs lost) and chopped nearly a quarter of its funding. The irony? Circulation and workload has increased by 11 percent. Thankfully, books are still arriving, but the good folks who check them in are far and few in between.
My neighborhood library, Imperial Point, has inconvenient service hours. Closed on Fridays, not open after work hours some days, unlocking its doors too late on other days. I can’t blame them — they can’t afford to stay open during “normal” hours. Instead, they compromise with abbreviated times and services. And it’s not just the Imperial Point branch or any other branch in Broward; it’s sadly a commonality all over the nation. Last year all city libraries in Seattle were forced to shut down for an entire week due to budget cuts.
Call me crazy, but as an editor, journalist and writer, I’ve got this weird attachment to books and libraries. I grew up around books, and I was practically raised in a library (though my parents will never fess up to it). After school, my brothers and I would go to the library to read, study, research and entertain ourselves. My parents couldn’t afford a baby sitter; instead, the library became our surrogate nanny. By the time I was 10, I think I read every single book in the children’s section (thank you, Ann M. Martin, for The Baby-Sitters Club series). I say with confidence the impact the library had on me is directly correlated with my current choice of profession. And, I’d like to think there’s millions of other folks that libraries have directly impacted, too.
On June 22, county commissioners will hold a Budget Workshop, discussing the budgets for a variety of civic services, including the public libraries. Let’s hope for the sake of ourselves and our libraries, no shortcomings are finalized.