Philadelphia Free Library System is shutting down

The Philadelphia Free Library system is broke, and they're shutting it down, including cancelling "all branch and regional library programs, programs for children and teens, after school programs, computer classes, and programs for adults" and "all children programs, programs to support small businesses and job seekers, computer classes and after school programs" and "all library visits to schools, day care centers, senior centers and other community centers" and "all community meetings" and "all GED, ABE and ESL program."

Just look at that list of all the things libraries do for our communities, all the ways they help the least among us, the vulnerable, the children, the elderly. Think of every wonderful thing that happened to you among the shelves of a library. Think of the millions of lifelong love-affairs with literacy sparked in the collections of those libraries. Think of every person whose life was forever changed for the better in those buildings.

Think of the nobility of libraries and librarianship, the great scar that the Burning of Alexandria gouged in human history. Think of the archivists who barricaded themselves in the Hermitage during the Siege of Leningrad, slowly starving and freezing to death but refusing to desert their posts for fear that the collections they guarded would become firewood.

Think of the librarians who took a stand during the darkest years of the PATRIOT Act and refused to turn over patron records. Think of the moral unimpeachability of those whose trade is universal access to all human knowledge.

Picture an entire city, a modern, wealthy place, in the richest country in the world, in which the vital services provided by libraries are withdrawn due to political brinksmanship and an unwillingness to spare one banker's bonus worth of tax-dollars to sustain an entire region's connection with human culture and knowledge and community.

Think of it and ask yourself what the hell has happened to us.

All Free Library of Philadelphia Branch, Regional and Central Libraries Closed Effective Close of Business October 2, 2009


  1. Some friends of mine who live in Philly point out that the city has a history of playing chicken with popular services when the state government is being stingy.

  2. it’s CRIMINAL that this is happening. they could find NO solution? so now what are they going to do with the books, equipment, buildings and land? and what about all the librarians and library workers?

  3. A wonderful paean Cory; a sublime lament. It’s extraordinarily disheartening news. The only hope remains that word of such a tragedy will invite the intercession of some higher power to intercede and save the day. The notion that such a system can simply go ‘offline’ almost overnight does not bode well. I hope your impassioned words can help in some small way to remedy the situation, they were certainly an eloquent eulogy.

  4. Here in California, Arnold has decided to scrap textbooks in favor of students doing all their reading electronically. It would probably work out just fine if every student had their own dedicated computer at home. But the overwhelming majority of students don’t.

    Every time that I think that education can’t be de-prioritized any more, somebody proves me wrong.

  5. Here in Connecticut they’re shutting down the inter-library loan program :( — Not as bad as the situation in Philadelphia, but still deplorable.

  6. AVRAM is spot on: this smells of the city government holding the libraries hostage to get something else they want.

    Related thoughts:
    * With city + PA taxes so high, you have wonder if all the bankers who might have stepped up here have long since fled to better tax states

    * I wonder how many man-hours of public employee union overtime it costs to keep libraries open …

  7. The state government has yet to pass a budget, which is wreaking havoc on everything that needs state funds to survive.

    The Free Library system isn’t shutting its doors for good, but only until money starts coming back in.

    One of the other budget cuts that we’re facing in Philadelphia is the reduction of trash collection. It will be collected every two weeks instead of weekly for the duration of the budget crisis.

    I say we should lock the state legislators in the Capitol building and feed them bread and water until they pass the dratted budget.

  8. “They’re shutting it down” is premature. From the link Cory posted, “Even as we remain hopeful that the State Legislature will act and pass the enabling funding legislation, we wanted to notify all of our customers of this very possible outcome” (emphasis mine). Yes to brinksmanship, but it’s not just the politicos — it’s the “morally unimpeachable” librarians exerting political pressure through outrage-baiting ultimatums.

    A similar thing happened here in Boston — after being threatened with budget cuts, our two zoos claimed they were going to have to euthanize all their charismatic megafauna. Within a week, amidst a rising tide of rage and recriminations, the zoos got their funding reinstated.

  9. It’s almost certainly a bluff, but it’s a bluff against a slow decay of library funding that in fact _would_ effectively and gradually kill them. On the bright side, it is a bluff that works because people really do care about their libraries.

  10. Antonius,

    Do you have documentation for that claim about California?

    Number one: The governor is not the head of any boards of education. So how does he decide what districts do?

    Number two: My kid is a student in california. She has textbooks.

    Number three: are you sure this isn’t something to do with OPEN-SOURCE textbooks (which don’t necessarily have to be read on a computer screen). And are a good thing.

  11. Thank you for this, Cory – your advocacy and passion is well appreciated and will be repeated to others in the library community via listserv and link.

    I’m fortunate, but longterm colleagues talk anxiously about 20% cuts, job losses – and choices between cutting jobs and services to homebound, and to small and rural communities.

    The truth is that no one wins in this. We in libraries know there are folks hurting, and that our jobs are not immune to the effects of this dismal economy – after all, we are the folks, too.

    It is unfortunate that at a time when people are using libraries more than ever to gather information about jobs and education, there are less people (and less materials and services) to help.

  12. “Think of it and ask yourself what the hell has happened to us.”

    The internet.
    When’s the last time you had to go to a specialty building to find out some information? Add in companies which will happily ship you books for relatively cheap, and the day of having a building which houses non-unique artifacts of knowlege is dying.

    Bit of a shame, since I did love the places…but I haven’t set foot in one in years. I just buy the fiction and go online for the nonfiction.

  13. Maybe they realized that providing free books was socialism, and that people could get their own books if they weren’t lazy drug addicts.

  14. Good lord folks, get with the times. Public libraries are socialistic. That’s bad. So are public fire departments and police departments. Hopefully they are next. We need to purge ourselves of these horrible socialistic programs. We aren’t Europeans you know. Now that I think about it, private insurance is a cost sharing system. That’s socialistic too. Maybe we can get rid of that too.
    I think I am going to call my local bookseller to see if we can get a caravan of “regular” folks to drive to Philly to protest any attempts to keep funding this. I’m sure the free market has much better solutions to these community needs.

    P.S. I heard that Alexandria must have had a publicly funded fire department.

  15. This drama just played out in NYC about a month ago. The threat was not quite so dire — the libraries were not going to be shut down — but there were supposedly going to be many staff cuts (including a good friend of mine in the Queens library system). The funding came thru and the jobs were saved. Hopefully the same will happen in PA.

  16. Sidewalks are Socialism. Why should I pay to equalize other people’s walking abilities? If you can’t hack rugged terrain that’s your problem.

  17. >Think of it and ask yourself what the hell has happened to us.

    We became libertarians. We hate taxes and we think everything government does is wrong. We think that regulating business is immoral so we let bankers and multinationals run amok and now we’re broke. Our infrastructure is falling apart just like Ayn Rand predicted except her ideas are the cause, not the cure.

  18. beautiful, beautiful prose Cory, it near brought a tear to my eye, and was eloquently counterpointed by the ZOMGWEREALLGONNADIERUNHIDE tag. Respect.

  19. Looks like Philly suddenly has a place for grassroots book lending/swapping projects.

    It also shocks me to what extent the social services we take for granted are falling off the plate one by one. You can almost hear the brainwashed neo-cons a mile off chanting – Anything with the word ‘social’ is bad – privatize everything, including police, fire, & emergency services.

    If the country is that cash strapped couldn’t we divert funds from W or Cheyney’s lifetime secret service protection?

  20. @26- Now what makes you assume that people who don’t want social services are brainwashed? They might know the consequences of getting rid of them very well and still desire the end result.

  21. I am afraid that #17 has it right, at least in part (there’s a good case though, that a budget crisis wasn’t created by the internet, so it’s obviously not the only reason).

    I, too have this awe of public libraries, this feeling that they are places of wonder and dignity. And yet I haven’t been in one for years either, even though I still read voraciously, both on paper and online.

    Maybe I should go – I lived in this city for years, and don’t have a library pass. Hhhhhmmm.

  22. #26 Cicada

    Now what makes you assume that people who don’t want social services are brainwashed? They might know the consequences of getting rid of them very well and still desire the end result.

    Stereotyping. It’s OK when we do it.

  23. Cory:

    Thank you. I interviewed you for Public Libraries and I can tell you that many librarians love your work and appreciate what you’ve done to speak out for free culture and information access. Thank you.


    The internet? You mean that place where children can experience storytime, crafts, meet artists, writers, veterans and musicians, play amazing games face to face and create everything from the simplest drawing to huge art projects all in a safe and intellectually stimulating environment?

    Screens are nice, but I don’t want my child being raised by one.

    Libraries are the noble intentions of communities writ large. When they go, we lose our civic soul.

  24. “Even as we remain hopeful that the State Legislature will act and pass the enabling funding legislation, we wanted to notify all of our customers of this very possible outcome.”

    Translation: it’s a stunt. A stunt for a very good cause, and I’m quite happy to be mildly misled. Kind of like how the senate wants to kill public television every year and every year they trot out ‘ZOMG they’re killing Sesame Street!’

  25. Alexandria is burning.
    Between copyright maximalists controlling the IP debate and the lack of regard for socially enlightened institutions like libraries the so-called “Information Age” begins to seem like a most ironic moniker.
    Well said, Cory.

  26. This is being played out to a greater or lesser extent across the country. Hours are being reduced, services cut, staff laid off, buildings closed. I personally fear for my branch. Meanwhile the legislators play chicken with the public, and libraries (among other public services) get caught in the middle.

  27. @28- Well, yes, actually, but without the face-to-face part.
    The problem with the physical building is that it’s a huge amount of overhead for what is, as you’ve described it, a big daycare.

    And I think you have the cause and effect backward in the whole lose the library/lose the civic soul issue. Some people are simply not “civic”, even if they live in cities.

  28. People get the government they deserve.

    Brinksmanship and ZOMGLIBRARIESTHINKOFTHECHILDREN is a perfectly legitimate political tactic when the opposition’s argument is ZOMGCOMMIESTHINKOFTHECHILDREN!!1ELEVENTY

    The main problem, as I see it: There are enough people who DON’T care about libraries that this sort of threat won’t actually work much longer. Especially not if they emphasize how they work with all those poor, downtrodden, unemployed, and NON-ENGLISH-SPEAKING folks.

    People who are suffering are NOT YOU, even if you’re among them. YOU just caught some bad luck. YOU will be just fine. THEY are lazy, shiftless, money-sucking ingrates, who are stealing your jobs. By being lazy. And going to the library to learn English. And.. um…


  29. As a citizen of the city of Philadelphia, frankly I’m more concerned about the impending limited trash pickups, police force layoffs, and police district consolidation. The communities themselves can replace the function of community libraries without city financial intervention. Even now, the communities who would most benefit from the libraries the worst fail to patronize them. When heaps of trash fill the streets which are patrolled by thugs, we’ll quickly forget about library closings.

    However, as pointed out in #4, this is part of a game played by the city against the state and organized labor. Philadelphia could fix this problem itself if it wasn’t so corrupt. One party politics has allowed for a large percentage of the city to get paid to do essentially nothing. There exists vast fiscal waste in this city. In addition, there exists vast stretches of city property owners that owe significant back taxes that the city fails to collect upon. On top of that, you have unions threatening to derail everything if they can’t efficiently extort more spoils (specifically increased pensions) for themselves at the expense of the rest of the working class.

    My guess is give it time, unions will get what they want, state will cave in and dump more money into Philly, and all us citizens will be footed with a higher tax bill. Same old, same old.

  30. I loved libraries as a child, I really did. For a child in the late eighties, libraries were once of the first places you could use computers, and there was story time and everything else. The first thing I ever really wanted to be was the “National Librarian”, which to my young mind was working at the Library of Congress, this absolutely gorgeous, labyrinthine, building with every book in the world.

    Fast forward to 2009 and I haven’t set foot in a library that wasn’t a university library in a very long time. I live in a small town in West Virginia, with a large local campus, so perhaps that changes the way it seems to me, but I just don’t see anyone at the library any longer. Even the most poorly off of the community have a Wal-Mart bought computer at home, all of our schools have libraries in them. The few times I used the public community library in High School was as a meeting place to go elsewhere, and I was a geek. The last time I walked into our local library it was, in all honesty, filled mostly with the homeless staying warm and staving off boredom.

    Again, it could be where I live that influences it. I imagine Philadelphia has a grand beautiful library that mean people would want to spend time in, but in a town like mine, the library is place people don’t want to go. Not because of a lack of culture, intelligence, or interest in reading, but because there are just better places to partake in activities involving those, even if that place is at home.

  31. This happened because of an ongoing political struggle in Pennsylvania.

    Our state legislature is mostly Republican. Our Governor, a former Philly mayor, is a Democrat. The Legislature wants to cut spending across the board, as the state has a MASSIVE deficit (which is unconstitutional), and the Gov wants to raise taxes temporarily to cover it. Also, Philly is a Democratic city, and Harrisburg has tried for decades to get control over it… and it’s taxable base.

    Also, Philly’s corrupt as all hell, and the previous mayoral administration (not the Gov’s) was more corrupt than most. A huge surplus vanished over the course of eight years, and the city is out of money. There is legislation to allow Philly to increase the sales tax to raise money, but it’s… of course… stalled in the Penn. legislature, and probably not going to get voted on soon enough.

    It’s not just the Free Library… the whole city may well have to shut down soon. As in almost all city services may well be shut down. As in schools and rec centers may be closed. As in sanitation, police, and firefighters laid off.

    Yes, it’s THAT bad.

    I love Philly… I was born there, and I’ve lived in or around it all my life. I’m just sick of what’s happening to it.

  32. @cicada: The Internet is not a perfect substitute for a good library when it comes to obtaining information. It is better for some things (finding documents that include a specific phrase) but worse for others (finding documents about a given topic), because it lacks the structured catalog of a library. Also, there’s still a great deal of information that doesn’t exist online: old, out-of-print books (though, for better or worse, Google may change that), scholarly journals that are available only in print or via proprietary databases, and the like.

  33. My small Virginia town has a rather nice library, and they have plans to expand. We find it very useful. Partly as a result of the rich supply of kids books available, both of my kids were reading before they were 4 years old.

    However, I truly loathe the “crying wolf” bit. It hardens the public and over time they turn a deaf ear to the pleas of worthy organizations. Recently, our schools were going to cancel all French and Latin classes, most Honors classes, etc. Except they weren’t; they were just screaming for more money while making plans for new sports facilities.

    These tactics may bring short term relief, but probably hurt in the long run.

  34. I haven’t stepped into a library for years. But I do remember when I was young and poor I was able to use libraries to get a very good free education. Libraries more than any other service allow people to bootstrap themselves out of poverty and while I don’t need them any more I do feel sorry for those who won’t have this option in the future.

    And they won’t because essentially a lot of people will see libraries as a socialist tax drain.

    As for Arnie and his talk of digital books for students…it’s not only students who use libraries. But we all know what it means. Education only for those who can afford a computer, electronic books only for those that can afford the means to read.

    Ben Franklin would cry at this. But let me guess, he’s probably seen a socialist as well.

  35. Even from an economic standpoint, I wouldn’t be surprised if libraries “pay for themselves,” judging by the amount of people using them as a headquarters for finding employment, learning Enlish, etc. That’s probably hard to quantify, though.

    And the internet is not a substitute for libraries either as community centers or as information storehouses, although the latter is certainly technically if not legally feasible.

  36. Of all the doom and gloom that assaults our senses daily,
    this, out of everything,
    REALLY got to me.
    I am incredibly disappointed that the Humans in Philly could let this happen.

    Deeply sad.

  37. This is absolutely horrid. Libraries are essential. I don’t know how you swing it, Cicada. I’d be bankrupt if I had to go out and buy every book I wanted to read. “Relatively cheap” is indeed the word. Its still too expensive for many people, me included.

    I hope you’re wrong about libraries dying out. I have no interest in living in a world where they don’t exist.

    I do think most people dont have the same experiences you do. The library near me is VERY busy, all the time. So apparently lots of people do continue to find value for it and also can’t afford to buy all their books.

    Let’s hope the PA government pulls its head out of its butt soon.

  38. #34 – I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Harrisburg’s constantly struggling to get control of Philadelphia.

    PA is set up so townships and municipalities have the majority of decision-making power for their area, as opposed to the Commonwealth. (As long as what you want to do does not involve selling liquor or a car on a Sunday)

    But yeah, the Republican-controlled legislature is demanding deep cuts saying that everyone’s having to tighten their belts during these economic times and Gov. Rendell is fighting back saying it doesn’t make sense to cut funds to libraries, schools, or medical care for children and the elderly.

    It’s a mess here. We all kind of laughed when all of this news focused on CA and their budget problems. We’ve had State workers on furlough, libraries are already cutting staff and hours, schools are already running deficits to pay their staff, and several had to put off buy new textbooks or hiring new staff.

    There was talk a few days ago that an agreement was reached but Sunday’s headline in the Patriot was Rendell outlining his opposition to the latest budget plan.

    So, no end in sight.

  39. This is just another variation on “firemen first”.

    When it is time to cut the budget, the politcos will cut the few things citizens value foremost, as a scare tactic.

    But you can bet the political hacks in Philly will be tooling about in their crown Vics, Suburbans and going on lavish “leadership conferences”/

    Try parking every city vehicle at night instead of letting bureaucrats take hem home (joyriding).

  40. benher#25:

    Looks like Philly suddenly has a place for grassroots book lending/swapping projects.

    Unprecedented! That could never work.

  41. Oh, honestly.

    This happens every few years in Philly. Lawmakers will fix it over time; Nutter’s ‘Doomsday Budget’ is designed to force the city council and state legislature to action. This budget issue doesn’t JUST affect the Free Library; it also will reduce a lot of essential services and shut off a lot of other public works, like parts of the park system and recreation centers.

    And it almost certainly WILL NOT HAPPEN. All Philly politicians are corrupt, some just more than others. The Street administration was RIFE with corruption and undid all the fixes the Rendell administration managed. People seem to forget that Philly has gone bankrupt before. Philly and the state will arrive at some sort of solution, once they find a way to take credit for it. Its just that now that were closer to the deadline AGAIN (this same process played out a few months ago) it’s making the rounds again. It’s theater, pure and simple.

  42. This is in part because the PA state budget has not been approved yet, which is truly deplorable. Michael Nutter (our Mayor) is also stating that because there is no budget approved, that they will have to close local police and fire departments and cut staff as well. Much of this is fear-mongering – I am confident that once the PA state budget is approved, that much of this will go away.

  43. (Please feel free to disemvowel me)

    Jesus fucking Christ on a stick! Nobody needs to “bomb” us back to the stone age we are doing fine all by ourselves thank you.

  44. Sounds like they need to have some protests in Philly, when Ohio threatened to cut library funding by 2/3rds there were a lot of protests such as this read-in in the state house lobby.

    I think libraries are great, and although grassroots booklending/swapping is rad it doesn’t provide the same infrastructure as full-time intelligent people working to figure out the best way to disseminate and share books.

  45. The library system is not “shutting down” for good; They’re threatening a temporary closure pending a budget which has yet to pass. Once the budget passes, they will reopen. Although even a temporary closing is a bad thing, you should step away from the edge, Cory, and not over-inflate the issue.

  46. I have nice memories of my town library. It was one of the first places I was allowed to go unsupervised when I was around 8 or so.

    Sadly, I would not dream of letting my kids spend time alone at our public library. For the entirety of it’s daily operating hours our library is pretty much a homeless shelter. The last two times I went inside every single seat was occupied by homeless people, many of them sleeping.

    In the morning when the library opens, there is a crowd of homeless waiting to get in. When it closes at night they have to be woken up and kicked out. Throughout the day there is a group of them just outside the entrance smoking and panhandling.

    It’s sad but I would support closing our system down as well and using the money to give poor people free internet access at home.

  47. In light of the current financial situation wouldn’t it be good if americans could get over calling their country “the richest country in the world”?

    Libraries are great institutions. Try raising a child without one. Or getting an education.

    Once you have your education and job safely in hand perhaps you could get by with fiction paperbacks and non-fiction bought on line. But it would certainly be a poorer life.

  48. This only has to do with budget. It’s not like Philadelphia hates libraries.

    Libraries are going to be extinct in 20-30 years anyway.

  49. Eek! Guess I should get off my ass and go to a library and stop using the Temple U. one before its too late! I find it ironic that I have an interview to work at the Temple library tomorrow.

  50. @Sleze – You have no idea what you’re talking about. Libraries are not going away any time soon, especially not in the next 20-30 years. I’m tired of people acting as if libraries aren’t relevant anymore because they themselves don’t go. That doesn’t mean that others don’t use them! Just because you aren’t on Medicare or don’t take advantage of disability benefits doesn’t mean that they aren’t beneficial and are going to die out.

    Maybe you should try going to your local library sometime. You should walk through the childrens department and see all the kids learning to read and using computers that their parents can’t afford to have at home. You should try asking your librarian a question you think will stump them and see how quickly they come up with an answer or at least provide a source that could get you the answer. Hell, you can even rent DVDs there for free! Can you believe it?!?

    As a resident of Philly, I got my library card as soon as I could sign my name. I credit my local library for letting me choose my own adventures again and again. I can’t imagine Philly without its libraries. They’re too important to close! Even for one day!

  51. Do you know what helping kids and old people is?

    What did those old people ever do for you? And those kids? They never gave you anything, never even worked a job!

    The best part of such rhetoric, of course, is that since no one gives help, no one gets help. And since no one gets, no one gives…

  52. There have been talks of closing some of the Philly branches for almost a year now. This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to a library system. Someone mentioned NYPL above, and for awhile it looked like the Trenton Library system (NJ) would have to close (there were even rumours of taking a large donation from a group of supportive drug dealers to keep the libraries open).

    As a children’s librarian in an Urban area, I hope this last play works out for the Libraries. So many kids and teens spend their after school time in the library, keeping them out of gangs, drugs, and bad crowds. So what if they are there to play games and socialize? Libraries aren’t just for information and books. Libraries are so much more.

  53. This is disgusting…

    For those of you saying it’s just political threats and etc..

    The mere fact that politicians feel comfortable threatening to close them is an indication of rot.

    The access to information online is in way a replacement for libraries. Libraries are for many their first introductions to a vast pool of literature…their first opportunity to choose a book for themselves, their first experience with the community of readers, sharing and being shared with. I pray they never go away, and am thankful that our community still treasures ours.


  54. I worked for the Philadelphia Free Library for almost 4 years in the mid ’00s and it was always underfunded and in dire straits. While this may not be much of a surprise, it’s certainly a sad turn of events.

  55. We might as well not have libraries in Dallas, they’re so bad. When I lived in Maryland the libraries were beautiful and amazingly well-stocked, even if my taxes were out of control. So here I get to eat, but I have to buy all the books I want to read. Oh well.

  56. It looks like they are taking a hard stance with the state. This might be more of a political move. However once those libraries close down, its really hard to get them to open back up and get state funding again. A sad day

  57. The following is paraphrased from my work site, – but it’s really how I feel. And if there’s any doubt, the folks at FLP are clear minded, good people who are doing their best at possibly the most historically significant U.S. library, and got ready for work today watching the VP of GM refuse to tell Ann Curry how much WE paid for their new commercial for their 30 day money back guarantee. It’s Koyaanisqatsi – and it makes you wanna puke:

    Modern U.S. society doesn’t realize how much it holds it’s own libraries in esteem.

    But it does, whether it wants to admit it or not. Today’s libraries cross all demographic lines and provide newer and better services than those to which individuals generally can access on their own.

    We are in a land where college is a largely capitalist proposition, health care is dependent on whether you have a job or not, public school funding is victimized in the voting booth by empty nesters and those without children, and parks are the first to be forcibly closed any time there’s a glitch in a state or federal budget.

    But the libraries in the US, despite an “every man for himself” societal structure within which to operate, soldier on, consistently doing more with less, being creative with disbursement of funds, and still making sure the wealthy get their N.Y. Times bestseller on time, immigrant children learn to read, and the person who has tattered clothes but a brilliant mind can have somewhere to enrich their poor life. Plus a clean bathroom for everybody.

    So as a result, it’s daunting for a librarian when their building wears out or shrinks, and they need a new one, or a bigger one. The world at large IS a bunch of capitalists, and it’s players don’t understand the flow of financing that libraries must apportion wisely, often in a manner a the rest of us capitalists are unaccustomed to.

    In addition, those few that think they understand librarians often only in their minds see a pencil in a gray bun, or a tweed jacket with elbow patches – they don’t see the staff that worked hard to get an advanced degree but also have the skills to run off some hoodlums with psychology, pay the Lexis-Nexis bill on time, blog a reading list and comfort a child whose parent is late returning to story time. In short, libraries and librarians are hybrids; doing noble work in retail-like trenches, and with no money.

  58. Yo, Philly!

    The money that ought to go to libraries gets sent to local ward bosses who distribute it to ethnic societies (such as the Polish and Italian clubs) who in turn use it to buy enormous glittering party dresses which are worn by big muscular homophobes as they prance and mince down Broad Street every year.

    You think I’m kidding but I’m not. The ward bosses get the vote out, and the fairy queens with mustaches are called “Mummers.” That’s how the system works in Philly.

    Now I’m hungry for a cheesesteak from Pat’s King of Steaks, dammit.

  59. The Idiocracy is dawning. Pax Americana is quickly dying out. The libraries are just the latest symptom. The American experiment is going down in flames. I’m worried that the replacement will be even uglier.

  60. As I read a book a day on average there’s no way I could find house-space for all of the material I read if I had to own it-much less afford it as I’m currently jobless. And I’m an old-school reader, I like the physical book to hold.
    Also, we all know that the material on the internet is often questionable in it’s reliability, even if books aren’t perfect, they’re more likely to be correct.
    Free libraries are one of the best parts of the American scene-for them to feel that playing this kind of political game is necessary or functional is damned sad.
    One thing that online searching can’t do well is winkle out of your brain what you really want to know, the way a good librarian can. No book search can find that blue book about trucks, or that story you read in high school about some mice or that craft of needlework that only uses straight stitches….
    As for the cost of union overtime, I haven’t seen a librarian clock any overtime in years.

  61. It seems that most americans don’t see what is happening. The truth is that the US is in decline, the country has begun a slow death rattle. The american people are getting sicker, losing freedoms by the dozen, losing education. Their entire society is being sucked dry by a leviathan military, and slowly the culture is engulfed by fear, hatred and death.

    I’m very glad I’m not living in the US, I would hate to be in the middle of that mess.

  62. @ 61

    Just because you don’t see librarians clocking overtime, it doesn’t mean they’re not working it. I’m an academic librarian with a 35/hr a week contract, and work what amounts to a 50 hour week. FOr public librarians it’s even greater than that, between putting hours in on programming, taking over tasks that used to be covered by larger staffs and other governmental agencies, keeping current on technology,working to keep user’s privacy and serving as authorities on intellectual property issues, providing access to government resources, guiding people through the use of computers and the internet, acting as defacto social workers and fighting to keep budgets alive while still meeting the changing needs of a population that is more and more divided in terms of access to information which is increasingly only available online. I love being a librarian, but even I’m not cut out to be in the trenches like public librarians are. Anyone who doesn’t think that libraries are just places to get books and that librarians are glorified retailers probably has the luxury of not needing all of the other services that libraries provide.

  63. Where you else can you find a professional researcher who will look up anything you want for free? When you have to do research, the reference desk at the local library is a priceless resource. It is also an absolutely free resource. I’ve spent many happy hours browsing microfilm archives, reading newspapers and magazines from more than a century ago.

  64. No, it’s not a bluff. Take it from one who works in the library system here, things will really shut down if this is not passed. None of us know if we’ll have a job after October, it’s not like money will start springing up suddenly even if the budget isn’t passed. There’s a reason patrons can no longer place holds and must return all books before October. This is serious, not just a political ploy.

  65. @cicada:

    As you said, you haven’t set foot in a library in years.

    The “face to face” part isn’t simply overhead and human interaction, for children especially, is not “day care”.

    I didn’t want to trample on Cory’s excellent points, but add ESL, computer classes, job training, musical and cultural events, book clubs, family learning events, author/artist visits, historical re-enactors, and quite simply (via inter-library loan) pretty much any material you could imagine for virtually free. There’s even extensive internet access, for the millions of Americans who live without home access or computers.

    The cost of all this? Around 5% or less of property taxes in a given community.

    But don’t let emotional arguments sway, look at the ROI. a dollar invested in libraries yields a direct market benefit of $2.38.

    The notion that “the internet” has replaced libraries is a bit like arguing that “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” have replaced music.

    1. Again, not every family has a computer at home. Not every family that has a computer, has one for each child. Not every home is an environment where it’s possible to study.

  66. Do you have any concept the cost of the resources that a library provides? The internet is no substitute, many of the resources present in the library are not even available online. Those that are, are extremely expensive to access that way.

  67. People demand to to pay less in taxes, I hope the conservatives manage to lower taxes and destroy all the city services that go with the taxes.

    When the conservatives sell off all the public buildings, and burn all the books, electing progressives won’t bring back the Library or the community hospitals or clinics.

    We have the government we deserve.

  68. @59
    “@Sleze – You have no idea what you’re talking about. Libraries are not going away any time soon, especially not in the next 20-30 years. ”

    As soon as the contents of libraries are fully digitized (google is well on its way in doing that) and this ebook DRM crap is sorted out, the primary function of a library will be obsolete.

    “I’m tired of people acting as if libraries aren’t relevant anymore because they themselves don’t go. That doesn’t mean that others don’t use them!”

    I used libraries in school. I have never entered one again. I would bet that 90% of Americans fall in the same boat I do.

    “Just because you aren’t on Medicare or don’t take advantage of disability benefits doesn’t mean that they aren’t beneficial and are going to die out. ”

    Just because someone doesn’t use something, doesn’t mean they don’t see the use in it. Medicare serves a great purpose and the only thing I see that could possibly replace it would be absorbing it into a full universal health care system. But then, medicare is useful to everyone. Libraries are useful to researchers and students.

    “Maybe you should try going to your local library sometime. You should walk through the childrens department and see all the kids learning to read”

    …that’s what school libraries are for.

    “and using computers that their parents can’t afford to have at home.”

    …libraries are for loaning books, not public computer labs.

    “You should try asking your librarian a question you think will stump them and see how quickly they come up with an answer or at least provide a source that could get you the answer.”

    …there’s a guy who used to work at a used record store who could do the same thing with music. Now there’s an Iphone app that does it. Lexis Nexis and a host of computer apps search databases of texts and can do the same thing. Librarians are essentially experts at googling books.

    “Hell, you can even rent DVDs there for free! Can you believe it?!?”

    …great use of our public money.

    “As a resident of Philly, I got my library card as soon as I could sign my name. I credit my local library for letting me choose my own adventures again and again. I can’t imagine Philly without its libraries. They’re too important to close! Even for one day!”

    I am sorry you’ll miss it but don’t worry. It is a bluff.

  69. @antinous Not every home is an environment where it’s possible to study

    I can’t tell you how true a statement this is.

    My first library job was as a “lab assistant”. Making sure the computers were in working order, generally playing librarian helper. Working with the kids who came in to use the computers (for everything from Runescape to homework)

    I saw how many of them were looking for a safe place. Kids whose parents were…less than supportive. Kids who just wanted to sit and read or talk with friends or use a computer in peace. Kids who wanted a place that wasn’t school or a chaotic home enviornment. The “third place” is a big idea in libraries, heck, in culture. A place you don’t have to (directly) pay for, or aren’t working for and don’t live in. More and more those spaces (parks, forest preserves, libraries) are getting squeezed and society as a whole pays for it.

  70. @Sleze:

    I used libraries in school. I have never entered one again. I would bet that 90% of Americans fall in the same boat I do.

    I would venture to say that that kind of hyperbolic statistical estimation is evidence that perhaps you should take a stroll over to the local library.

    The notion that libraries are not useful to society is the kind of logical lapse that brings on many a facepalm.

    Libraries cut across economic boundaries. The affluent use them as to the poor, in fact many wealthy communities pride themselves on having excellent libraries.

    The primary use of a library is not a book warehouse. If that were the case you’d simply have closed stacks, an attendant and some runners. Libraries and librarians provide programming, educational and entertaining, that develops young readers and continues life-long learning.

    School libraries? Sadly they are often one of the first things gutted in budget cuts. A school library in my area has a book buying budget of 1200 dollars a year. This is not an impoverished community, a middle class suburb. To put that in perspective, it’s about enough to replace the books damaged in the year and buy about half a shelf of new books. The librarian puts her own money in plus relies on the public library to provide a resource.

    Oh yes, teachers LOVE public libraries. The course of the school year can be charted by the projects coming in the door. Savvy teachers use the library as a second resource.

    But why am I spilling e-ink here? You seem almost proud of not having been in a library. Something I’d consider a blemish on my character at best and a shameful secret at worst.

  71. This is really sad, but if you’ve been to Philly lately, I’d think you’d agree that funding the police and fire department is more critical.

  72. Rage had it right!

    Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes
    Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal
    I walk tha corner to tha rubble that used to be a library
    Line up to tha mind cemetary now
    What we don’t know keeps tha contracts alive an movin’
    They don’t gotta burn tha books they just remove ’em
    While arms warehouses fill as quick as tha cells
    Rally round tha family, pockets full of shells

  73. Thank you for giving me another reason to hate Ed Rendell.

    Amazing- they STILL haven’t passed a budget for the fiscal year, and they’ve been IN the fiscal year for nearly two MONTHS.

    Excuse my language BB, but if these assholes worked in the private sector for company budgets, they would have been thrown out on the street and left to starve with their entire families by now after their employer fired them, maybe a week into this idiocy.

    Ed Rendell, go kill yourself. My books and the freedom to read are worth more than your worthless political career.

    To everyone who doesn’t live in PA, thank yourself. There are many reasons to hate it here, Ed Rendell is just one of the big ones.

  74. A lot of people are assuming libraries have been singled out. That’s not the case. Here is a quick and dirty version of what’s going on:

    Philly has a huge budget gap. To fill the gap, the mayor proposed changing some stuff that the state legislature would have to approve. Problem is, the legislature is mired in the state budget crisis, so Philly’s problems took a back seat.

    When the legislature ignored the city budget month after month, the mayor decided to take a big risk. He figured that if he threatened to slash critical services like police, firemen, garbage collection, and libraries, the state would meet all his demands. This is the so-called Plan C “doomsday” budget. It was never meant to actually be implemented. But now the unions are involved, so who the heck knows when the budget will be approved. The doomsday budget may very well go into effect.

    I love reading and support libraries 100%, but I’m a lot less worried about these cuts than seeing the police and fire departments slashed. And every-other-week garbage collection? Not lookin’ too appetizing. And then there are the nonprofit social service providers who have already laid off workers, missed payroll, and cut back hours. A lot of them are going to fold forever.

  75. This is all a game of politics. The state can not seem to get it’s act together and do what is necessary to allow the city to pass a 1% sales tax increase and make changes to the pension to stop this from happening. Nutter is playing hardball to try and get some action but unfortunately the governor and state legislators don’t seem to care. Plan C not only closes libraries, but basically guts the criminal justice system which in a city with Philly’s crime rate is unthinkable.

    PA is the only state in the nation without a budget, a bi-partisan proposal was hammered out in Harrisburg and now the Governor says he won’t sign it. This is affecting libraries and services across the state since no payments have been made to anyone since June 30th. People have been laid off at the county library headquarters in Montgomery County and services are being cut or suspended due to this impasse.

    Even so, this newest budget proposal on the table will cut the public library subsidy by 34% and statewide library services such as databases and the statewide library card program by 75%. This is huge for libraries across PA and you will see services getting cut at libraries if this passes.

  76. Wow- So now there will be no public libraries in Philadelphia? How can a major American city not be able to fund a public library system? So will private libraries in the schools or universities reach out to their community and allow the public access to their services? Will citizens share the books they own with their neighbors? Will this boost sales in local bookstores? There has to be an alternative here. What’s going on here? Is it the city government mismanaging things, or is it apathy on the part of the community? Is there no one there who donates money to libraries?

    They recently revamped the library in San Francisco. I can’t imagine New York City or Chicago without libraries. I live in Houston where they recently renovated and reopened our central Downtown public library building. I have plenty of books at home, and love bookstores, or reading online, so I don’t spend so much time at the library- but I would be appalled if it was announced that our public libraries were to shut down.

    I’ve always enjoyed libraries and they were my favorite places to be as a kid. I lived in Fairbanks Alaska for about 10 years. It was my home town, and the library was just about my favorite place to go there. I spent countless days there participating in the activities for kids- doing art workshops, reading clubs, watching films, being in little plays, or whatever was happening, or gazing at the display cases with exhibits, and many hours searching for books. I was lucky enough to watch a former Disney artist and local college art professor paint a mural for the children’s room.

    Before this wonderful library was opened we had a much different one. It was housed in a tiny strip mall storefront. They had a very small staff. People seldom checked out books. The homeless used it as a refuge from the winter cold. There was no children’s room- just a small rack of children’s books, and most of the librarians at the time did not like kids. -And they were suspicious of anyone who wanted to use the restrooms. They didn’t have so many books and that staff didn’t seem to like their jobs in general. Yet my mother took me there for books all the same because she enjoyed reading and wanted me to love books too.

    So the tiny library lost funds. And it was announced that due to the lack of funds and interest, the public library in Fairbanks, Alaska would close. Irate parents protested. Letter writing campaigns started. Petitions circulated. A special election was called for to vote if there should be a new library and how it should be funded. Funds were raised. Land was bought. Architects and builders were hired. Soon we had a new, modern library with plenty of books, and eager, smiling librarians who loved their jobs- and their book loving patrons. We loved our new library- and no one minded if children ran and played, or cared who used the restrooms. I had the chance to revisit this library on a vacation a few years ago. It was still as wonderful as I remembered- with the friendly staff, the people happily reading, and enjoying the place. I made it a point to donate money to them to give back for what they had given me so many years before.

    The point of this is that where there’s a will; there’s a way. Public libraries provide a valuable educational and informational resource to their communities. Its a sad day to see public libraries shutting their doors. I hope the people in Philadelphia find a way past this crisis.

  77. Cory, you said “How could this happen to the richest country in the world”? I think not. Try the most heavily debted country in the world. All that US ‘wealth’ was debt borrowed from foreign countries. Now that the credit and borrowing is finally gone, it’s over for the economy. The consumer-based economy dream is over. The US government and the American people have maxed out their credit cards. It’s now time for reality.

  78. The Commonwealth of PA is basically trying to assert control over Philadelphia. The city wants to increase its own sales tax by 1% for five years in order to balance its budget in the current economic climate. However, the Republican legislators in the rest of state, are doing the best they can to block this. Their goal is to get concessions they want (regarding education funding) in exchange for letting us raise our own sales tax. They refer to it as the “Philadelphia bail-out bill.” Why they even have a say in the city sales tax is beyond me.

    It’s quite frustrating once you realize the full extent of this–Philly (a Democratic city) is an economic engine in our state, yet somehow we operate at whim of (Republican) rural and suburban districts in the state legislature. For example, the state took over the Philadelphia Parking Authority in 2001. If you pay a ticket in Philly, the money goes to the state, not the city. Meanwhile Philly is characterized as a municipal welfare queen.

    [By the way, Cory, I think your post is a bit premature. Our mayor and the state are basically playing chicken. The libraries just threw down their gauntlet against the state, sure to unleash a storm of protests.]

  79. 2 things –

    This was posted by a local philly blog that has been covering the budget crisis:

    Also, the Philadelphia Free Library is supported by both city funding and private funding. It was once described to me by an employee as having an incestuous relationship with the city. The library can’t survive without city funding, but the library itself is actually in part a private organization. Kind of weird, right?

    So that being said, if they have private funds (i.e. $ from the pew foundation and other local non-profits) why can’t some of those funds be used to keep at least the main branch open? The central library has a massive rare books section, is a local landmark and until recently there were plans to expand it:

    Where is Pew in all of this? Where are the private funds and foundations? Basically, if they were really going to shut it down, i would have expected to hear at least something about the private face of the library or at least from some of its funders.

  80. I use the library, and I agree with every word Cory wrote.

    But I’m curious – is library use down or up, now that we have the internet? I googled “library use down” (7 hits) and “library use up” (67,000 hits), but that’s not a very good way to find out. Does someone have numbers?

    I don’t use rec centers, but I do use parks and walking/biking trails. I’d rather have libraries than football stadiums and wave pools.

  81. In the last year my kids and I have attend a wizard rock concert, my daughter went to a cartooning workshop, anime club, both my kids attended a “weird science” demonstration (science projects from ordinary household items). Not to mention all the books we checked out. The internet is great and you can learn anything, but there’s nothing like sitting down with your kids with a huge storybook full of illustrations and reading to them. We love our local library, and definitely don’t feel it’s outlived its usefulness.

  82. I wrote comment #90 where I talked about my love of libraries- the Noel Wien Library in Fairbanks, Alaska in particular. I looked it up for the fun of it on Google to get more accurate facts, and dug up an interesting bit on the history of the Fairbanks public library with a link to Philadephia!

    One hundred years ago in 1909, Mr. George C. Thomas, a Philadelphia banker, donated much needed money to help start a library in a small mining town 1000’s of miles away from him. He donated $7000- a substantial sum in those days. $4000 went towards building costs, with another $3000 over 3 years for books and ongoing expenses. That library was named in his honor after his death. A new library opened in 1977 when the George C. Thomas library was no longer useful. However, someone else has bought the older building recently, and it will be used as…a library! Now a hundred years later the libraries in Philadelphia are in trouble. How’s that for coincidental irony? Mr. Thomas must surely be spinning in his grave- God rest his soul.

    Look up the George C. Thomas Memorial or the Noel Wien Library- its an interesting history, or read the newspaper article in this URL,

  83. To #93:

    “It’s quite frustrating once you realize the full extent of this–Philly (a Democratic city) is an economic engine in our state, yet somehow we operate at whim of (Republican) rural and suburban districts in the state legislature.”

    You do realize, don’t you, that Philadelphia (a Democratic city) takes twice in services from the state than it provides back in tax revenue. So, in effect, all the peoples of small PA towns (Republican) are subsidizing services and welfare in Philadelphia that they don’t get to take part in. That’s why the state legislature has, and deserves, a say in the financial fate of Philadelphia.

    -A Philadelphia resident

  84. This isn’t just about the libraries being held hostage in PA. Social services have already been decimated by the moral failure of the state legislaturre: hundreds have lost their jobs, mental health services have been discontinued; non-profits have lost funding and people are literally going hungry. This isn’t just politcal brinkmanship with the libraries at the center. The libraries have been without funding for a couple of months but have been hanging in there until the last minute. The last minute is almost here.

  85. Philly’s crisis goes beyond libraries, but it’s not a bluff. Libraries across the state are in serious, serious danger — if something doesn’t give, doors will be shutting in Pittsburgh and other cities as well. Some info on what the current proposed budget means for PA’s libraries:

    Please, if you live in PA write letters, make phone calls…we can talk until we’re out of breath about how much this sucks, but we need to make people LISTEN.

  86. Letter sent to Obama!:
    “I am writing to you with deep concern over the closing of all branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia on 2nd October, 2009 due to lack
    of State funding. My 4 year-old son Uriel, together with thousands of kids from all socio-economic strata who are eager to read and learn, was in despair at the bleak prospect and I could not give him a reassuring answer.
    As a past guest of the Free Library, I appeal to you to intervene immediately to prevent the light of learning from being extinguished from this distinguished city that was once the beacon of freedom and enlightenment for the whole world.”

  87. #101
    We don’t need rec centers, we have streets and parks and tv fitness shows.

    We don’t need schools, we have the internet.

    We don’t need firemen, we have running water.

    We don’t need sewers, we have composting toilets.

    We don’t need nursing homes, we have robots.

    We don’t need culture and the arts, we have reality TV.

    It is so easy to dismiss things you know nothing about. People use libraries – why don’t you find out what we’re doing in there,what kind of help we get, and the social and educational benefits we’re receiving from this shared community effort.

    And why not support the one community service that attempts to help everybody lift their consciousnesses up? There’s a lot of fat elsewhere in city budgets.

  88. Avi Solomon- I gladly sent off a brief email to the White House as well! I agree we should take this to Washington DC- even if they may not be able to do anything, at least they will know people are upset about the prospect of losing public libraries in Philadelphia. I encourage anyone who cares about education, literacy, or who simply values the service of libraries in their community to write their state’s representatives or the White House and express their concerns about this. Better yet, write to city officials if you live in Philadelphia. It’s sad to lose public libraries, and it would be sadder still if no one seemed to care.

    I would like to make a correction- I inaccurately remembered the older, smaller library in Alaska from my childhood as being in a ‘small strip mall storefront’ Actually it was in a historic steel reinforced log cabin like building that’s 100 years old! The building has a new owner and plans are to possibly house documents and books relating to the city’s early history as a mining town there. As I stated before, Oddly enough the benefactor who paid for it originally was a Philadelphia banker in 1909!

    The point of this is someone like George Thomas in Philly believed even a remote place like Fairbanks, Alaska deserves a library. The people there never gave up on the idea despite a flood, fire- or any funding issues. The libraries continue because the people in Alaska need them and keep them going. The people of Philadelphia should no doubt see the value of libraries in their community- and never give up on them despite these hard times.

  89. #103 and #105:

    You two realize that local libraries are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government, right? Obama cannot and should not interfere with state affairs.

    -Philadelphia Resident

  90. #17/#28 cicada- I’m guessing you do not have children?! The INTERNET for my 2 & 3 year old girls?!… We live in an image-obsessed ‘screen’ age… and when it comes to proper education and future, successful leadership this is not a good thing! I take my girls to the library every week… it is the highlight of their week. At a young age, they have a love for books and reading. This is something a 2 & 3 year old cannot get from a computer screen!! They cannot pickup a laptop to read a story using their creative mind & imagination! One of the key things I learned when EDUCATING myself on how to best EDUCATE my children was to SURROUND THEM WITH BOOKS!!

    Obviously, education is not a priority for these PA/Philly politicians… And I hate the idea that they would use such a critical forum for political brinkmanship.

  91. #106 I am well aware that it may be out the president’s jurisdiction, and the federal government may not be able to actually do anything. This will not stop me from letting them know that this is a serious problem. I also encourage people to contact state and LOCAL government officials about this. But I do feel that it needs to be brought to his- and other officials’ attention all the same so that they may know people are upset about this, as they should be. You must act if you care about literacy in your city. Whether or not you have children, or if you use the library, as a citizen of Philadelphia you should agree that this is an important issue, and find this news alarming. This is not something to laugh or shrug off. I would be upset about the prospect of my local public library shutting down. We need public libraries for the aid of students of every grade level and college, or for those who cannot afford to buy books, or computers. Regardless of who’s jurisdiction this may fall under, something as important as your community’s public library system should not just silently vanish. It will be a SHAME if Philadelphia does not act on this.

  92. This really disgusts me. I wish this was an excerpt from one of Cory’s novels, and not a page from real life. This country has gone to Hell. How can they decide not to fund libraries? How can a city this size allow this to happen? What’s next on the chopping block after libraries? Sorry folks, but due to no funds there will be no more trash pick up, police, fire dept., ambulances, street repairs, or water supply…. If they cut much else you may have to abandon the city and fend for yourselves elsewhere- like sections of Detroit.

  93. Hm… If the politicians would donate the salary they get for one day work, the library system could be saved…

    We don´t need to start a donation campaign, we are already paying for all public services in form of taxes and “taxes on taxes”.

  94. Cory, an update – Harrisburg has approved the budget for the city so I believe this should prevent drastic action being taken – hopefully, this will prevent libraries from closing. We’ve also received calls at home about trash pickup switching to bi-monthly instead of weekly and hopefully now, we can keep the trash off the streets and our library doors open.

    Link to article:


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