Chicago’s library commissioner comes out swinging — against FOX
Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary A. Dempsey has issued an in-depth and stinging response to a recent story on the city’s FOX News affiliate (see the earlier MobyLives report) which suggested that money being spent on the city’s public libraries “could go elsewhere” and that libraries in general should “be on the way out”.
In a public letter to the reporter on the Fox story, Anna Davlantes, Dempsey began by saying she was “astounded at the lack of understanding of public libraries” shown in the report. But that was just the first sentence.
She went on to take apart Davlantes’/Fox’s suggestion that most people only went to the library to use free Internet services, and that the Internet made libraries unnecessary:
And yes, we proudly provide free access to the internet because so much information today is found online, something you should know from your own work. In fact, the Chicago Public Library provided 3.8 million free one hour Internet sessions to the people of Chicago in 2009. The Internet has made public libraries more relevant, not less as your story suggests. There continues to exist in this country a vast digital divide. It exists along lines of race and class and is only bridged consistently and equitably through the free access provided by the Chicago Public Library and all public libraries in this nation. Some 60 percent of the individuals who use public computers a Chicago’s libraries are searching for and applying for jobs. We’re proud to continue to be able to use our resources to help them do so.
Then there was the “undercover” aspect of the report, which showed surveillance photos of empty stacks:
“Your ‘undercover cameras’ shots were taken in a series of stacks devoted to bound periodicals used for reference. Next time, try looking at the circulating collections throughout the building.”
Dempsey labeled the report’s “Libraries vs. Schools or other public agencies funding argument … a non-starter.”
Chicago’s schools offer the shortest school day in the nation. As schools slash their budgets for school libraries and shorten their classroom teaching time, thousands of children flock to Chicago’s public libraries every day afterschool, in the evening and on weekends for homework assistance from our librarians and certified teachers hired by the public library.
… We are at our busiest when schools are not in session. This summer, we will once again welcome some 50,000 children to our summer reading program….
Then there was the report’s claim “that public sector employees make higher salaries than those in the private sector”: it’s “simply wrong,” says Dempsey. What’s more,
… like thousands of our fellow City employees, the management of the Chicago Public Library is taking 24 unpaid holidays and furlough days this year to help close the budget gap and to keep city services, including libraries, operating for the public. Interestingly, I was on an unpaid furlough day when I watched your story last evening.
In conclusion, writes Demspey,
The public library is supported by taxpayers for the common good of all the people of Chicago – just like public school. We don’t ask our schools to make profit. Neither should we ask it of the public library. As journalist Walter Cronkite once remarked, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
Although the station posted Demspey’s letter on its website (as opposed to giving her an airtime rebuttal), neither Davlantes nor the station has replied.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.