Library closings across the city diminish us all

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
John Donne (1572-1631), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris

There is a clear undertone of anger and resentment felt by community residents over the process used by the city’s public library trustees when they decided to recommend the closing of four branch libraries.

The six-member group voted last week to shutter and abandon four neighborhood gems, based solely on a budget estimate for the coming year. The shutdowns were included in the new fiscal budget outlined by the mayor yesterday, and the week’s events seem to doom any chances the four might have for survival.

The trustees make the case that theirs is a solely “fiduciary” responsibility – they have an obligation to approve a budget that is in balance, they say, and when told what they can spend from expected city revenues, they ordered the cuts.

Faced with those limits, the library officials chose an simply expedient route, one that sets off one neighborhood against another, and proceeded to make their decisions based on arbitrary and capricious assessments of which neighborhood was more deserving.

The brutal actions are reminiscent of that tiresome reality TV show “The Weakest Link,” wherein people competed in a series of rounds, after which the group would choose one of their own to be eliminated. The British woman host, Anne Robinson, then voices her callous “You are the weakest link – Good Bye.”

Last week, the BPL Trustees looked down and said,
“Hey, Lower Mills, you’re gone – good bye.”

And in a manner similar to the TV contestants, supporters of the surviving branch libraries took a deep breath, and as they exhaled, they quietly celebrated their momentary victory, their apparent survival.

Four branch libraries are gone, twenty-two remain. For now.
But if you’re a believer in a strong system of branch libraries through the city’s neighborhoods, you’d better remain vigilant. This month, the bell tolled for the demise of branches in Lower Mills and three other neighborhoods, bringing an end to free library services for residents there. Next year, or sometime soon, if the actions of these trustees are not overturned, others most assuredly will close under the weight of budget cuts.

A vital little piece of Lower Mills died last week. As the poet reminded us, “Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
– Ed Forry