This will place in context Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Pat O’Connor’s comments that libraries around the country are closing so Chicagoans are lucky Emanuel is only proposing to reduce Chicago Public Library hours in 2012. News of library closures and rumors of closures abound.
In some cases, government bodies have been forced to close public or academic libraries due to tax cuts. In other cases, libertarian politicians have used budget cuts as a pretext to close library facilities they wanted to close anyway as part of a broader effort to reduce the size and scope of government in our federal system.
Due to budget cuts, government bodies that operate public libraries in the U.S., U.K., and the Republic of Ireland have been forced to permanently or temporarily close library facilities and halt bookmobile operations or fear they may have to do so in the near future. As I explained in “The Gary Public Library, Part X: Closures” and “The Hammond Public Library, Part IV: Closures,” due to financial reasons, the Gary Public Library District has already closed its Tolleston Branch and will close its Main Library and the Hammond Public Library will close both of its branches.
On April 15, 2011, Christine MacDonald and RoNeisha Mullenreported in The Detroit News that one month after laying off eighty workers, the commissioners of the Detroit Public Library (DPL) announced because of an $11,000,000 shortfall, in May they would have to choose from between three options. These options were (1) shutting eighteen of twenty-three branches and laying off 191 of the remaining 333 workers; (2) shutting fifteen branches and laying off 163 workers; or (3) shutting twelve branches and laying off 135 workers (“Detroit library could close most of its branches”). On Wednesday, September 14, 2011, Shannon Jones reportedon the World Socialist Web Site that the previous day members of the Fenmore Block Association and other Detroit residents protested the possible closure of the Jessie Chase and five other branches outside the Main Library of the DPL (“Protests continue over Detroit library closures”).
Also on September 14, 2011, The Detroit News reported that the plan in April to close up to eighteen branches and lay off 191 workers was scrapped in May “because it was based on bookkeeping and math errors,” but “Administrators said in August some closures are necessary because layoffs of 40 of 376 staffers in April hurt service and have temporarily closed branches on some days.” At that time, they proposed the closure in October of the Chase Branch, the Chandler Park Branch, the Lincoln Branch, the Mark Twain Annex, the Monteith Branch, and the Richard Branch, and also the replacement of the children’s library at the Douglass Branch with a technology center. However, at their meeting on September 14th the commissioners decided to postpone that decision for at least two weeks (“Detroit Library delays plans to close branches”).
On Monday, June 20, 2011, Nicole Jones reported on KALW and in the San Francisco Chronicle that that due to a $58,000,000 budget shortfall, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan made several proposed reduced budgets to the Oakland City Council, the most extreme of which would entail the closure of fourteen libraries, four fire stations, and five recreation centers. This would leave Oakland with four libraries. Of the 215 library staff members, all but twenty-three would lose their jobs.
The Oakland Public Library had a budget of $23,600,000 in 2010. That was 2% of the city budget.
On Friday, June 17, 2011, sixteen protestors were arrested in downtown Oakland. The group Save Oakland Libraries planned to hold an all-day read-in in front of the Oakland City Hall on June 20th.
Comparing the closure of fourteen out of eighteen libraries to a “zombie apocalypse” – like out of Night of the Living Dead (1968), 28 Days Later (2002), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Resident Evil (2002), Zombieland (2009), the forthcoming World War Z (2012) or the AMC series The Walking Dead – some librarians held a “Zombie Walk,” a zombie-themed parade down Telegraph Avenue. [By the way, I’d like to point out it wasn’t George Romero who called his undead characters in Night of the Living Dead zombies, but his fans, and they were mistaken. His Living Dead had more in common with the ghouls of folklore than zombies.] Librarian Amy Martin told Ms. Jones Oakland librarians were not the first to hold a zombie-themed protest. Brooklyn librarians did it first (“Zombies protest proposed Oakland library closures”). The librarians have also held more family-friendly guerilla story-times in public places.
The Seattle Public Library (SPL) was closed for a week between Monday, August 29, 2011 and Sunday, September 4, 2011 due to citywide budget cuts, and, of course, all public libraries were closed for the Labor Day civil holiday on Monday, September 5th so the SPL did not resume regular library operations until Tuesday, September 6, 2011. Seattle Times Book Editor Mary Ann Gwinn noted,“County library patrons can relax; the King County Library System system will remain open. We city dwellers will have to suck it up (Seattle residents can get a county library card and use the county system, but they need to get to a county branch to pick up books).”
In northwestern England, BBC News Manchester reported on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 that Bolton would close one-third of its libraries (the Astley Bridge, Oxford Grove, Heaton, Highfield and Castle Hill libraries), much to the disappointment of the group Save Bolton Libraries. The Bolton Council hopes to save £400,000. It must save £64,000,000 to offset cuts in the central government’s cuts in financial support of local government bodies.
According to the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, there are 4,064 public library buildings and 548 “mobile libraries” (as they call bookmobiles) in the United Kingdom, there are about 322,000,000 visits to those libraries and bookmobiles per year, more “people use public libraries than attend premiere leagues football matches” (professional soccer games), 78% of five-to-ten-year-old children use libraries, and children’s book borrowing has rise every year for six years.
On his Web site Public Library News, public librarian Ian Anstice states 434 public libraries (347 buildings and 87 bookmobiles) are currently under threat or have closed or have left county council control since April 1, 2011. The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals currently estimates that over 600 libraries in England, Wales, and Scotland could close, especially if communities don’t come forward to manage local libraries.
BBC News London reported on Thursday, October 13, 2011 that Brent Libraries SOS lost their High Court bid to save six libraries in northwest Greater London that the Brent Council had marked for closure. In April, the Brent Council announced plans to shut half of its libraries – the public libraries in Kensal Rise, Barham Park, Tokyngton, Preston, Cricklewood and Neasden by September.
The BBC noted “Brent SOS Libraries sought the judicial review arguing the decision was ‘flawed’ as it failed to assess local needs and the impact of the closures.” Further, “The case was being seen as a test case for other campaigners across the UK fighting to keep 400 libraries open.”
In the Republic of Ireland, as I explained in “The Gary Public Library, Part X: Closures,” the Leinster Leader in Leinster Province reported on September 15, 2011, that there was fear the Kildare Library Service in County Kildare would soon announce the Kildare County Council had decided after September 28, 2011 the public libraries in the towns of Naas, Newbridge, Athy, Kildare, Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth would be open only for half-days as they would not open before noon. Further, the public library in Athy will be closed on Saturdays as well.