March 18, 2014

Proposed 2015 budget would restore Philadelphia library service

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A new budget for Philadelphia would allow the city's libraries to restore six-day service.

A new budget for Philadelphia would allow the city’s libraries to restore six-day service.

A new budget put forth by Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter could put the city’s libraries back on track for six-day service, Ian Chant reports for Library Journal. This comes after drastic cuts led to several years of weekday-only libraries during the recession.

Chant writes that Philadelphia was hit hard by the 2008 recession, and in 2009 lost nearly 20% of their funding from the city, which the Free Library of Philadelphia system to cut back to five days of service per week—except the central branch, which stayed open seven days a week. While the FLP was able to “avoided a doomsday scenario that could have seen the closure of branches,” the loss of Saturday hours was bad news for libraries and their patrons. As FLP director and president Siobhan Reardon put it to Library Journal, “It’s just better for the community to have six-day service. If you’re closed on Saturday, it’s hard for people who work to get to the library.”

Nutter was emphatic about the importance of libraries to Philly, saying of the cuts, “It is the absolute worst decision that I’ve made in the time I’ve been in public office. I have a very deep and personal appreciation for library services. I know what the library did for me, as a kid.” Since 2009, the FLP has taken the opportunity to slowly reinstate operating hours, with three branches restored to six-day service in 2012, and ten more in 2013.

Nutter’s proposed budget, though, would restore a much larger amount of money to the library system, nearly $38 million—which would allow all locations (except the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) to go back to operating six days a week. There’s potential good news on the state level as well: the Pennsylvania governor’s proposed budget would also provide a small increase in funding—$200,000, considerably less than the boost from the city, but the first increase since a whopping 20% cut in 2007.

Reardon is optimistic that the budget will pass; she told Library Journal, “It doesn’t matter where you live, libraries are being highly used right now. It’s a moment for us that I think we need to appreciate and grab hold of.” It’s not yet a sure thing, though. In order to have the money earmarked for libraries, Nutter has to get approval for the sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works, a proposition that’s been controversial and drawn criticism from members of city council.

If the proposed budget does pass, the FLP will be able to hire 43 new full-time library assistants, but not (at least for the moment) any full librarians.

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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