New York library advocates have been working hard these past few weeks after news broke of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed budget cuts, which would cut library funding from $308.5 million in 2011's fiscal year to $223.5 million for 2012 (these depressing numbers are further broken down on the city's Office of Management and Budget website).
If Bloomberg's budget is approved, New York would end up with some very unhappy bookshelves (according to Paul LeClerc, President and CEO of The New York Public Library, almost six million fewer items would be circulated), lots of layoffs (more than one in four library jobs would be eliminated), and drastically cut library hours (NYPLs would be open on average just four days a week). No wonder people have been calling the mayor Bloomzilla.
New York isn't the only city whose libraries are being forced into a future with a significant lack of funding. If you're ready for a real eyesore, Losing Libraries is a project that maps out library cuts across the US, illustrating what they call "the big (awful) picture" in a way that words just can't. Similar maps have been created for library cuts in the UK.
In addition to providing free access to books, US public libraries provide free computer access and classes, free job training and resume building, free children's programs, free tax help, free classes for people learning to speak English, and the list goes on. These services are all heavily utilized by communities of color and poor communities, and when these services are cut, they are hit the hardest. In a recent post at Colorlines, Channing Kennedy responded to drastic library cuts in Oakland by asking his mother, Barbara Jean Walsh, who was a librarians in the '70s and '80s, to speak to how librarians are an integral part of the safety net, as well as to how communities of color are impacted when library funding is cut. His mother worked at a library in a mining town in the '70s, where the library served as the only location for the town's Latino population to learn English. In the '80s, she watched as people in power decided that libraries weren't important (cause, you know, they weren't the ones using them). She writes to the power of the library and the need for people to own and fight for their libraries:
Libraries are already, naturally, a part of the safety net, because they empower their community with equitable access to knowledge. And libraries can't do that without librarians — someone who knows their collection, who knows their patrons, who has the right training and the right salary. Someone who has compassion, and the financial and social resources to act on that compassion without losing their mind.
They also can't do it without communities. If a community doesn't feel ownership of its library, it's going to go away. And if the people at the city and the county aren't made to understand a library's value for the community, they're not going to fund it. It breaks my heart that libraries have to be fought for, that their role and their potential isn't known by heart by everyone. But that's where we are. If we want to keep our libraries, our libraries need champions.
Thankfully, lots of people have been rising up to champion the library as governments have been cutting and attempting to cut them down. In New York, Save NYC Libraries has been hosting creative events to protest the proposed cuts: a bunch of library huggers got together to give the library a big squeeze and a group of library supporters spent 24 hours protesting the cuts for the We Will Not Be Shushed 24-Hour Read-In. Save Oakland Libraries is hosting a bike ride in support of Oakland Public Libraries this Saturday, the 18th.
Libraries are important and we need to fight for the ones in our communities! If you're in New York, take action by writing a letter, making a phone call, or showing up at a protest. The NYPL and Save NYC Libraries will show you how to get involved. For people who lives in other areas of the US, the ALA is working to hook you up with other library advocates in your region.