Sunday, June 17, 2012

An open letter to Mayor Bloomberg, about the cuts to library funding

The city of New York is looking to cut the budgets of its Public Library systems by up to a third. The following is an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg on the subject:

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,


This is a real letter.

My daughter is 19 months old, and we go to the library once or twice a month. We pick up books for her, and books for myself, and we take them home and read them, and then bring them back. These books are helping her learn to speak, and to recognize colors and shapes. They will eventually help her to learn stories, and to read. We visit three different branches near our house -- the Sunset Park branch, the Borough Park branch, and the Windsor Terrace branch.

The Brooklyn Public Library system isn't the best in the country. Ohio Public Libraries, where I went to high school, were much better. The public library in Princeton NJ, where my wife grew up, is fantastic. Even Brooklyn's main branch, which is both beautiful and impressive, doesn't come close to offering the range of books, videos and cds that those other two library systems have.

And the BPL and NYPL systems are expensive to run, I'm very sure. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use them. We must churn through a lot of books, to say nothing of magazines, cds, etc. So I'm not saying there aren't very just reasons that these library systems aren't the best. I'm sure it's costly to have a library that serves such a huge concentration of people.

But there's no doubt that these libraries are vital, to me personally, but also to this bright, vibrant city. Really, really vital. The library system here is an example of some of the best ideas that America has had about itself: that it is a place where everyone can come to learn, and to succeed. Everyone can and should have access to books, to knowledge, to information and entertainment, and most importantly to the entire ecosystem of ideas, from the dull to the dangerous. Because who knows who our next Tesla will be, or where s/he'll come from?

So New York's libraries shouldn't just be sufficient. They should be, like the rest of New York, the best in the nation. They should set examples for the rest of the country. They should be amazing, like the parks, the bridges, the police, the fire fighters.

I hear budget numbers and I'm not nearly informed enough to know what they mean, or how they fit into the history of the Brooklyn and New York Public Library systems. And I have no idea if BPL or NYPL can survive, or continue to meet the needs of its patrons with the new budget. I'm sure you think they can, and I'm sure they think they can't.

But I'm also sure that cutting the budget represents a serious lack of faith in the mission of the library systems, and a lack of will to see these libraries be the best. Which is a lack of faith in the people of New York City to be their best. For a mayor who, it seems, has prided himself on making the city a better place to live and grow (which in many ways, he's done), this seems to be sadly short-sighted.

My daughter will learn to read, even if the libraries shrivel up and die. But she won't learn that the government, or the city, believes in her. And she'll be that much less likely to believe in it back. What a shame.

Sincerely,

Christopher Michel

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