For those of you in the DFW area, if you get the Rowlett channel, I’ll be speaking in defense of the Public Library tonight. I’m even dressing up. It’s true.
Here is the speech I think I’m going to give. Feel free to make any suggestions!
Mr. Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen of the council,
I come before you this evening to speak against the budget proposal of June 5, 2007. In this proposal, a sizable contingent of service providers and knowledge worker positions would be eliminated.
While I find most of the proposed cuts to be problematic, and the elimination of city employees right before they qualify for retirement to be ethically reprehensible, what I find most egregious of these proposed cuts is the slashing of the public library funds and staff. These deep cuts would possibly endanger the library’s state accreditation, losing both state funds and valuable research tools. (This information is based on conversations I’ve had with the State of Texas administrators responsible for disbursing funds and awarding accreditation, all of whom were shocked at the idea of eliminating the library director at a library as heavily used as our is.)
Public libraries build a community’s capacity for economic activity and resiliency. Many families and caregivers rely on the library to provide important preschool reading and learning. Many people entering the workforce rely on libraries to get them online. Local businesses are increasingly tapping into the library’s online databases to keep themselves competitive and to find synergistic new business opportunities. Library facilities often anchor downtown and commercial developments, and are attractive neighborhood amenities.
Were these cuts to be enacted, there will be a reduction in services available to citizens in Rowlett. In the fiscal years since 2002, the number of items circulated at the library has more than doubled; from 145,000 items to 323,000 items. The number of people going to the library has increased from 71,000 visits to almost 90,000 visits. Just this summer, more than 2000 children registered for the Summer Reading Club and read over 17,000 hours. Also this summer, over 42,000 people checked out over 95,600 items.
This level of activity doesn’t support the concept of cuts; in fact it suggests that funding for the library should be increased to meet the demands of a literate, growing population. The city council must recognize that our library is a major cultural touchstone. To eliminate library funding and resources, while budgeting 160 million dollars in capital improvements, is to say to the citizens that they are less important than geraniums in a street median.
Literacy isn’t a privilege; it’s a right. Since the time of Benjamin Franklin, Americans have always had the ability to reach above their current stations by using the free resources available at the Public Library. To deny even one child the chance to read, or to deny one student the chance to research a topic via the available databases, or to deny one economically disadvantaged citizen the chance to better herself is something that should be abhorrent to us all.
Of all the things Rowlett needs to do, reducing the Library shouldn’t even be on the list. As high as our tax rate is, there is no excuse for reducing public services like the public library. The drastic reductions being considered are shortsighted, ill conceived, and a radical step away from improving our city.
Thank you for your time, and for allowing me to speak.