This weekend library advocates in Philadelphia are kicking off a campaign called Leaders For Readers United.
The Friends of the Free Library group is challenging mayoral and council candidates to demonstrate a commitment to the city’s readers by agreeing to work to restore the library’s 20 percent budget cut. Amy Dougherty is the Director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
“Libraries are only open five days a week as opposed to six, there are still many unscheduled closures or late openings because of the reduction of 100 to 125 staffers, so we are asking our next leaders particularly our next City Council members who will be voting on the city’s budget for the next four years, to agree to work diligently to restore that budget,” said Dougherty. The Friends of the Free Library is kicking off the campaign with a candidates forum in the main lobby of Central Library on Saturday starting at 11 a.m.
It’s not just in Philadelphia–libraries around the region are feeling the pinch. Kathy Arnold-Yerger, Executive Director of the Montgomery County-Norristown public library, said right now she’s receiving about $1.5 million in state funding–a drop of $600,000 over the last few years. “We haven’t given any raises in three years, our benefits package, our staffing levels, we’ve tried to control all of those costs as much as possible to help us get through this really rough time that we’re facing,” said Arnold-Yerger. Arnold-Yerger said all of this happens as more people are coming to the library to use the Internet. “Our wi-fi in one year, honest to God Elizabeth, went up 300 percent wi-fi usage! Makes sense because they can’t afford their connections at home…And….we have a computer lab downstairs,” she said. “People are here every day waiting to use the computer lab and they’re looking for jobs. So we constantly are challenged just to have enough staff.” Librarian Andy Woodworth is with the group “Save My N-J Library” but doesn’t want to broadcast where he works. He said as governments slash funding, “We’re buying less books, DVD’s, music, access to databases, we have less presenters coming in whether it’s for children’s storytime or people who can talk to adults about health, cooking, or exercise,” said Woodworth. Woodworth said a free public library is a very American thing and it’s vital to nurturing innovation and creativity.