LIBRARY SUPPORTERS FROM ACROSS THE DISTRICT
DC Public Library Director Molly Raphael topped the witness list and presented the council with some grim facts. According to Raphael, the current cuts of approximately $1 million to the FY2004 budget will result in the closing of two branches. Raphael explained that the decision had been made the night before at an emergency meeting of the Library Board of Trustees.
“The Board took these actions with great reluctance and sadness and was guided, as we always are, by the Statement of Principles on Library Service Reductions,” stated Dr. Marie Harris Aldridge, president of the Board of Trustees, in her comments to the council.
Complicating matters is a threatened cut of the library’s capital budget, which had been designated to significantly renovate or entirely rebuild Anacostia, Benning, Tenley-Friendship and Watha T. Daniel/Shaw neighborhood libraries. Originally the library had planned on accruing operating savings from the last budget cut of about $345,000 by having these branches closed for an extended period.
“The proposed reduction to the capital budget is even more harmful to the long-term operations of the library…[it] is dashing our ray of hope for even minimal building renewal,” Raphael told the council
It remains undecided which two libraries will be forced to close if the council adopts the mayor’s budget. Raphael told the committee members that the library will use a systematic approach to determining what libraries will be shut down. That decision, she said, will not take place until the end of FY 2003 in October.
The day before the hearing a delegation of DC officials were in Phoenix presenting baseball leaders with a proposal. This outraged District library advocates who were stunned to find out that the Mayor has proposed another cut of $1 million from the library systems’ already depleted budget.
“We’re going to tell the chief financial officer that if he tries to spend one dollar of taxpayers’ money on a baseball stadium, he’ll have to face all the people in the District who want that money for the libraries” Ralph Nader said.
Council member Kevin P. Chavous, chair of the committee on Education, Libraries, Parks and Recreation, went on record as supporting efforts to restore the money to the libraries. In a March 21 Washington Post article Chavous stated that he would not let the library suffer this cut and said that it was both a personal and Council priority to find the money for the library system.
Activists who were also quoted in the March 21 Washington Post article said that years of budget cuts have turned most of the city’s 27 libraries into shells of what they should be. Library buildings are crumbling and book collections are becoming tattered because of insufficient funds. The system has been forced to reduce staffing and hours of operation, recently cutting back to five days a week instead of six.
Of the assembled crowd, library board member Alexander Padro told the Washington Post, “This is the first time in a long time the council has seen the rank-and-file citizens come to say, ‘We believe the library should be fully funded.’ The council has not heard that from the public in a long time.”
Keith Michael Fiels, Executive Director of the American Library Foundation
Ruth J. Simmons, Brown University President
Sophy Burnham, Author Washington D.C. Resident
Dr. Reginald Wilson, Senior Scholar, American Council on Education