Just what is going on in Philadelphia? The Library Link of the Day yesterday was to this article from Philly. The Philadelphia Free Library has announced that it’s going to close all of its branches on October 2 if the city doesn’t get more money from the state. The system has something like 50 branches. I actually like the way they frame the closing, since they start listing all the services that people aren’t going to get. In some ways it’s a good strategy to put the value of the library directly to the citizens of Philadelphia.
But it seems clear that the libraries aren’t the problem, since the mayor of Philly has targeted lots of other city services to go under his "doomsday budget." From the article: "Besides closing libraries, the Nutter administration’s so-called Plan C doomsday budget includes eliminating court-system funding, shutting down all recreation centers and laying off up to 3,000 workers, including police and firefighters."
From the outside, one can only look at this and say, "What in the hell is that guy thinking?!" What does it mean to "eliminate court system funding," for example? Does it mean that they would no longer arrest and try criminals, which would be harder to catch anyway if they get rid of the police? Or does it just mean that the poor schmucks they do manage to catch will have to represent themselves in court because the city won’t provide public attorneys? Is that last part even legal?
The whole scenario just seems bizarre. No other city in the country seems to be having these kinds of problems, despite the recession. The mayor and hence the library advocacy implies that this is some problem of the state. If the state doesn’t allow a "temporary" (uh-huh) sales tax hike and a 2-year suspension of paying into the city retirement fund, then the mayor will shut the city down. This kind of behavior has a name; it’s called blackmail. "Give us money or we will kill your city." Except in this case the mayor would be killing his own city.
What I can’t figure out from the news is what’s really going on, though. Surely some readers out there have some insight into this mess. The problem seems like a combination of severe fiscal mismanagement combined with a complete disregard for the needs of the citizens of Philadelphia. Is that the case, though? Is this an incompetent administration holding a city hostage? Or does the mayor just not like libraries? That might be the case, since surely one could close most of the 50+ branches of the Free Library without closing them all.
Or maybe he knows that generally people like libraries, so threatening to close them all is a way for him to rally public support for his blackmail scheme against the state. That would be even more cynical and disreputable.
Or is it that the libraries are the worst offenders when it comes to spending city money, so closing them will save everything else? Are the libraries at fault here? Are the librarians all living large at the expense of the public, smoking fat cigars and drinking expensive champagne and telling the library patrons they can all just eat cake?
I’d like to know the truth, because it seems to me that a cynical mayor is trying to blackmail the state by holding libraries hostage. Philadelphia used to have an atmosphere of learning and education, with Benjamin Franklin there either founding or helping other people found everything from the first public library and the American Philosophical Society to the University of Pennsylvania and the United States of America. Now it looks like it might be known as the first major city to destroy its libraries. That’s quite a legacy for just one mayor to leave. Maybe they can close down the schools and museums next, or sell the Liberty Bell to the Chinese and just shut down the city.