Saturday, August 29, 2009

Urgent Dispatch To Oz: Emerald City Library Needs Cash

The Seattle Public Library, one of the crown jewels of "The Emerald City" will be closing its doors, both real and virtual, for an entire week beginning Monday, August 31. The fact that one of the most book-friendly cities in the United States cannot keep its libraries open due to lack of funding is distressing in the extreme, and does not bode well for other municipalities.

Nationwide, public libraries are being used more than ever according to the American Library Association. The trend is evident at the San Francisco Public Library which reports increases of 30% in customers, and 15% in circulation of materials over fiscal year 2007-2008. When asked about the surge in demand for library services, Library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers stated that the recently unemployed make up the majority of SFPL's new clientele. "The library has always been a place to hang out when you've got nowhere else to go," she noted.

What results is a classic Catch-22: the bad economy increases the demand for free library services, but the same downturn results in cuts to library budgets. Seattle is taking a bold step by closing completely (even the website will be inaccessible) for a solid week to place the library's dire financial state front and center before its citizens. Other systems, such as Los Angeles Public Library, are discussing closing facilities two days each month to deal with shortfalls in revenue.

No matter how such closures are implemented, the unemployed using the library's resources to find work will be facing yet another roadblock. Families checking out books, DVD's, and CD's rather than buying them will have to find free entertainment elsewhere. And the homeless, steady customers at urban libraries will have to seek respite wherever they are lucky enough to find it.

Altogether a desperate predicament requiring the help of the Man Behind the Curtain. He might just be the only hope for those who already have a brain, but are seeking a place to enrich it.

More on the specifics of Seattle Public Library's week-long closure can be found by following this link from the Seattle PI.

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