Sunday, November 1, 2015

Libraries, Sí! Anachronisms and Redundancies, No!

Below is a missive that I sent to the Takoma Park City Council regarding funding for the municipal library. I didn't even address how physical space for libraries and especially physical media collections will continue to become less important over time -

The Takoma Park Municipal Library is a thoroughgoing anachronism. But don't take my word for it.

Full disclosure: I am an ardent supporter of public libraries. My mother is a retired librarian who for years ran the public Loudoun County law library in Leesburg. I believe that libraries are a cornerstone of personal and economic development, even more so than schools given their emphasis on autodidactism.

That stated, I am not a supporter of inefficiency in the appropriation of public resources. The municipal library is a thoroughgoing anachronism, but don't take my word for it.

As the TASDI Library Subcommittee stated in 2005:

"The Takoma Park Municipal Library is an anachronism in the State of Maryland, where municipal libraries have been strongly discouraged in favor of county libraries. Our library, the only “surviving” municipal library in the state, cannot be designated a public library under state law, meaning that it is ineligible for many sources of funding available to other libraries."
The non-public library municipal library has only grown more anachronistic over time. Takoma Park residents have access to numerous superior public libraries in close proximity. They are -
  • Long Branch Library - a more modern library with superior collections and excellent and extensive Spanish and bilingual materials and services. It's much nicer than the municipal library and more accessible to many city residents.
  • Takoma Park Neighborhood Library - a lovely public library with particularly strong programming for children and youth (their toddler pajama and stuffed animal story time is unbearably adorable, pun intended). All of its services are readily accessible to all Montgomery County residents, and the location is more accessible to many city residents. Come now, people, it's time to stop acting as though this part of Takoma Park is a foreign country just because of an arbitrary boundary.
  • Silver Spring Library - an ultramodern facility readily accessible to city residents, who obviously helped pay for it.
  • and, finally, the college library, in the middle of town. I'm sure that if needed city and university leaders could work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Simply put, there is no need for the city to have an anachronistic and duplicative municipal library that is reasonably not viewed as a public library by the state. Moreover, the library's useful functions could easily be transferred to other city departments. Programming for children and youth can be transferred to the Recreation Department as part of expanded reading and literacy services. Computer and Internet availability can likewise be transferred for continued and expanded service through the community center. The library space itself can eventually be renovated and continued to be used for quiet study and meeting room purposes.

My understanding is that the city council actually voted 4-3 to spend hundreds of thousands to study the possibility of spending millions of dollars to renovate and even expand (!) this anachronistic and duplicative service on the very same night that council voted to increase residents' taxes. Perhaps unsurprisingly Fred Schultz and Kate Stewart championed this expenditure of funds. The city council has since actually discussed issuing millions of dollars in bonds to pay for such an expenditure.

The unfortunate reality is that council's actions are nonsensical. They are the equivalent of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to consider issuing millions more in bonds to renovate a cute but insignificant Little Free Library in a resident's yard. City council members love to complain that Montgomery County does not give the city enough money. Given council's actions regarding the municipal library, I, and I assume the county, have little sympathy for such complaints. Let's stop wasting millions of dollars on anachronisms when the money could be better spent on programs such as providing disadvantaged youth with afterschool and summer employment training and jobs.

We can do better!

No comments:

Post a Comment