Think Again: Why closing libraries is wrong

While he can’t read yet, my 2-year-old son has a passion for books. Every time he enters my office he heads straight for the bookcase.

I blame Glendale’s Casa Verdugo Library children’s program, which he attends every week.

Each week, he learns something new at Casa Verdugo, but what I appreciate most is that he interacts with other kids of different cultures while also learning from books. That’s why I was alarmed by recent proposals that would have put Casa Verdugo on the chopping block.

Recently, the Glendale City Council has been holding budget study sessions during which city departments are presenting 2011-12 budgets and explaining how they might help bridge an $18 million budget shortfall. For local governments, these are stressful times. And if you don’t pay attention, now is a good time to start taking interest in how your tax dollars are spent.

When we consider closing libraries, that is where things start going wrong. The initial Library Department budget proposed closure of library operations at Casa Verdugo and Chevy Chase, two of the eight libraries in the city. Savings from this would have been $234,143.

Shutting down Casa Verdugo was considered previously. At the time I was chairman of the Verdugo Towers Home Owners Assn., Glendale’s oldest high-rise condominium, located next to Casa Verdugo. On the other side of the library is Fire Station 26. Last time this debate coincided with a proposal to expand Station 26.

Back then I requested a meeting with the Fire Department. The meeting never transpired, as the plans were shelved. Casa Verdugo serves an important part of the city and without it, area kids would not have a neighborhood library within walking distance.

As the Director of Libraries Cynthia Cleary stated during the budget session, the mission of the library is to “provide opportunities in the community to be informed, educated and literate.”

The original library proposal about Casa Verdugo said: “Closure of library as we know it but continue as a temporary location for Brand Library during 18–24 month renovation. Maximize service at other libraries by transferring salaried staff and book budget. At end of Brand Library renovation consider site for expansion of Fire Station 26 or reopen neighborhood library. Eliminate CIP funding for library upgrades.”

What do library budget cuts have to do with Station 26, and was this a Trojan horse for expanding the fire station? I hope the Fire Department wasn’t eyeing that property again at the expense of our kids. I’m also troubled why, given the stated library mission, staff would have proposed closing branches or reducing the days libraries are open.

Libraries are the few places left where kids come together to gain knowledge — not just from books, but also from each other. They provide a level playing field, allowing all kids to gain knowledge regardless of their financial means. It is a place where our community gathers and interacts, something that is needed more than ever. When you take libraries away, you rob children of their future.

Patrons of Casa Verdugo walk below a quote at the entrance by Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca that says, “No man was ever wise by chance.” I commend the City Council for their wisdom in not closing libraries in search of miniscule budgetary savings. We should instead be investing more in our libraries.

A city council’s job isn’t easy in this economy, but closing libraries stunts the development of our kids and is no way to make budgets work — that’s kicking the can down the road at a tremendous societal price.

The real issues are in the bigger slices of the budget pie. We must make bold moves to address the real budgetary elephants in the room. The only special interests that deserve protection are our kids.

ZANKU ARMENIAN is a Glendale resident and a corporate communications professional. He can be reached at zanku.armenian@gmail.com.
 
 

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