Marcus Mitchell: No need to close any library branches
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, January 15, 2009
FOR THE LAST TWO decades, the citizens of Providence have endured a series of threats by the Providence Public Library to close one or more of its nine neighborhood libraries. Last year the PPL announced that the library system was no longer financially sustainable. Its board set up a “Sustainability Committee” mandated to find a creative solution to the library’s persistent deficit problems — to develop a plan to provide meaningful, substantive library services for patrons throughout the city in a different, more economical form.
Unfortunately, the plan that was approved by the PPL Board on Dec. 18 is neither creative nor economical. After all the time and energy that the trustees have expended on resolving the PPL’s long-term problems, the library has ended up with its usual answer to solving its money woes: Close branches. The PPL is planning to “sustain” its library system by closing five branches, leaving the people of Providence with only the central branch and four neighborhood branches, starting this July. (See “New library plan would close 5 branches,” news, Dec. 19.) The library’s solution is neither necessary nor acceptable.
We urge the city to refuse to provide the present level of library funding to the PPL to support greatly reduced library services after June 30.
Concerned that as early as next summer the PPL might not provide Providence residents throughout the city with full access to library services, the Library Reform Group established by concerned citizens incorporated a new nonprofit organization, the Providence Community Library, which is prepared to raise funds for and operate a nine-branch library system that will continue to provide Providence neighborhood patrons with at least the level of library services and programs they now receive. We call upon the city to dissolve its failed alliance with the PPL and enter into partnership with the Providence Community Library.
How can we claim to be able to run all nine branches when the PPL says it can’t be done? Our budget is based on the real costs of running the nine branches, not a budget based upon inflated costs, as has long characterized PPL projected budgets. Our branch system would hire fewer administrators rather than maintain the current top-heavy PPL administration. We would hire capable administrators and pay them salaries comparable with those of public library directors around America, rather than continue the PPL’s practice of paying exorbitant wages to an ineffectual administration that has lost the confidence of the public. Our branch system would engage in robust fundraising. Not being burdened with the PPL’s troubled history that has alienated both the donor community and library users, we expect, even in these troubled financial times, that we could successfully engage in fundraising that would allow us to expand neighborhood library services beyond the current level within the next two or three years.
Most important, the Providence Community Library would be governed by a board that puts the patrons first. Our board would include representatives of all nine library branches, some publicly appointed members, and some members elected by the board itself. No longer would policy for our city libraries be determined by people living in Barrington and South County!
We call upon the city to exercise the “escape clause” in the Library Agreement and end its relationship with PPL. It is time for a branch library system that will be truly a Providence Community Library! The people of Providence deserve a better library service and they can have it if the city breaks with its tradition of supporting the PPL and supports a community library organization instead.
Marcus Mitchell is president of Providence Community Library.