Three branch libraries are scheduled to close at the end of this week in Springfield Massachusetts because of budget cuts. Library advocates have mobilized to try to stop the closures. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
About 50 people held a rally outside the East Forest Park library branch to protest plans to close it.
Betty Hallen, a retired school teacher, who pointed to the irony of closing libraries in a city where early childhood education advocates have set up programs to improve the reading skills of young children. Tests have found that just 20 percent of Springfield 4th graders can read at their grade level.
Kerry Jarvis-Stucky said her two boys, ages 6 and 7 are doing well in school because of the time the spend in the library.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st, cut funding for the city’s Library Department, and that led to the decision to close three of the 9 neighborhood branches, according to the library system director Molly Fogarty.
According to officials, the Liberty Heights branch was selected to close because it has one of the lowest usage rates of all the branches. The Pine Point branch has accessibility problems, and the East Forest Park branch is saddled with an expensive lease and high utility costs.
Fogarty said overall library usage in Springfield has been on the rise as people take advantage of internet access and other technologies the libraries offer in addition to the traditional lending of books.
Fogarty said it would take $319 thousand added to the Library Department’s budget to pay for the staff and other expenses to keep the three branches open. The Springfield libraries receive about $1 million annually in grants and privates funds, but Fogarty said that money is used for special programs, to purchase materials or capital expenses, and not for operations.
Springfield City Council President James Ferrera said the libraries will be a focus when the full city council begins its budget sessions later this week.
By law the city council in Springfield can only make cuts to the mayor’s proposed budget, it can not add to the bottom line. City Councilor Timothy Allen hopes Mayor Sarno can be convinced to reverse the cuts.
City councilor Kenneth Shea says Springfield is facing cuts because of lower state aid and a projected steep decline in property tax revenue
Mayor Sarno has asked the council to approve a series of fee increases totaling almos $ 3million. He said that money is needed to avert even deeper spending cuts.