Bill Lumbergh, the Mayor's Spokesperson

Philadelphia, What's Happpppening?

Jennifer mentioned it below, but I thought we should note that apparently Bill Lumbergh is running the City of Philadelphia.

In response to public shock and outcry that Mayor Nutter is killing libraries (and public pools, and money for Fairmount Park, the police, the fire department, laying off people, etc), we get this charming quote, from Nutter's spokesperson, Bill Oliver:

Fewer libraries might be needed, [Nutter spokesman Doug] Oliver said, noting that the current library system was built for a city of two million residents. "We're closer to 1.5 million now, and that's a significant difference," he said.

"We know it's painful, but we have an opportunity to right-size this, and create an infrastructure that matches the city as it now is."

Grrrreat.

And, on a completely unrelated note, next Friday is Hawaiian shirt day. So, you know, if you want to you can go ahead and wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans.

Oh I know!

I bet we could get a great rate for phone operators out of New Delhi for the city's 311 line.

And next

we'll have these guys brought on to consult, maybe find some 'redundancies'.

Fix the glitch

People wont actually be laid off at all, they will just stop their paychecks and "fix the glitch."

Makes sense to me.

Yes as Karen Heller pointed out in today's paper, "In 1960, the Free Library supported 39 branches and 669 employees. Now, the staff is larger, 730, although its 54 branches serve a smaller city."

We absolutely, positively should close most of these libraries on the list. You look at the map, and some of them are so close together you wonder why they were ever built. Even if we were able to increase the budget of the total library system (and one hopes that some day we will), it would STILL make sense to decrease the number of branches so that you could make the ones you kept open better. Right now, we're spending too much money on buildings, and not enough on the core mission of the library system.

Think just what these 11 aging libraries spend on heat and air conditioning, and it's easy to see why neighborhood branches have such tiny collections of books. In fact, I keep reading about people who use the computers, or kids who come after school to do their homework, but precious little about people who come for the books. If what people want and need is safe places to do homework and computer access, then why are we wasting all this money on books and librarians?

If the free library were not free, it would have figured out long ago how to give people what they want, not what people with library science degrees think they need. I love libraries and I use our system all the time, but I think the system will need to adapt to changing needs and interests in our city and our world.

Decline In Total Population Does Not Mean A Decline In Needs

A decline in the total population of Philadelphia largely due to smaller family sizes does mean there is a decline in needs. There are more households in the the city of Philadelphia than there were in 1960, more people in poverty, more college students, and more students who are dependent on education as a ladder to economic opportunity.

In 1960, there were many more blue collar jobs than there are today. In a white collar world where ability to access and understand is a major key to success, there is a need for far more library resources than existed in 1960.

I well remember sometime between 1960 and 1962 when an integrated group of kids, including myself, were asked whether or not they wanted to go to college. None or virtually none of the black kids present said they did.

It is a very different world today. The Community College Branch nearest my old family home--the Northwest Branch at 12th and Godfrey--is mobbed with an overwhelmingly black student body from early in the morning until late at night.

If affluent people believe that tax cuts are more important services, then they ought to be volunteering to have their branch libraries shut down. I have not heard of a single person volunteering that his or her own branch library should be shut down.

It is completely indefensible in both moral and pragmatic terms to finance tax cuts in which the affluent get the vast majority of the benefits by eliminating branch libraries which disproportionately serve low and moderate income people.

i'm an interventionist liberal but

I have no doubt that the needs of our population are unlimited. Our resources are not. Social programs, libraries, roads - all of it comes from tax dollars, and tax dollars come from largely from business. If we don't get our taxes and other costs of doing business in line, we will have no tax base and no services.

It's not a question of right and wrong, it's just reality. Obama aside, the federal gov't has shown very little interest in helping cities with large populations living in poverty make up for that lopsided difference between tax base and need for services.

The other issue is one of sane efficiency. More libraries does not mean better libraries, or better outcomes for the investment. The same money could be spent on a smaller number of better libraries, or a system of community centers that devoted resources to what people want and need rather than spending a lot of it filling a cold dusty building with books people don't want to read. It's a real shame Nutter didn't do this more transparently, so we could know what the level of utilization is at each library.

As for "affluent" - the vast majority of libraries in Philadelphia are in low-income areas so of course that's where the redundant ones are too. Chestnut Hill has 1 library, Rox. has 2, Mt. Airy has 2 and one is closing. I'm guessing that since libraries don't currently do a good job serving low-income communities, the ones in less affluent ones are underutilized. That's why I wish we were looking at modifying some of these libraries to make them more useful to the community so we are not just spending millions to operate libraries in neighborhoods where we have failed to teach many residents to read.

Not enough info, so let's close libraries?

You say:

It's a real shame Nutter didn't do this more transparently, so we could know what the level of utilization is at each library.

Yet you support all of his proposed closings. There's a pretty apparent illogical leap there. This is where process becomes substance. The failure of the Mayor to be the open and transparent leader that he promised to be makes it impossible to support a set of proposals which, on their face, will obviously make this City less than what it is today. What is the Mayor hiding? And while he's hiding it, why should we support his noxious medicine?

And while we're being creative about how to rearrange a budget that's falling apart, why do we assume that the only thing we can do to help business is to lower taxes. Sure, lower taxes might help some businesses, but at the apparent cost of savaging services. Aren't there other ways to lower business costs, or increase their market share, some of which might help them far more than token reductions in their tax load? Can we help with insurance, with utility costs, with transportation issues, with financing expansion or inventories, with cheap land deals from our landbank, with workforce development, with marketing, with product development? Why are we so fixated on the notion that if we don't cut business taxes, we have no other means of helping business or the business climate?

And BTW, I'm way against the

And BTW, I'm way against the pool closures. Unlike libraries, you get no efficiencies because the pools are always full in July.

Look and see

My daughter is a born empiricist. At two years old, when I would tell her something and she wasn't sure about it, she would say, "look and see, Daddy, look and see."

I suggest you take that advice.

Take a few hours and go to some of the libraries slated to be closed and tell me that they are underutlized or that they are filled with books that people don't like to read.

And if actually going out and looking is not your style, yesterday, at the Kinsessing Library rally, Rep. Mark Cohen pointed to some statistics that library usage is dropping not in our poorer communities but in our richer ones. That is exactly what one would expect given that people in rich communities have plenty of books and computers at home and people in poor communities do not.

I hope he will give us the details at some point.

look at he MAP

Just look at the map. Almost every library on the closure list is blocks from another. Why should people in S. Philly have three libraries within walking distance when other neighborhoods are not so well-served?

I was at the Kinsessing Rally today and the alternatives are

much less impressive than you think.

I talked with some of the people in the neighborhood about the alternatives.
When you look at a map, some of the alternatives to this library look a lot more promising than when you are on the actual streets.

And we are talking about kids here. Remember, our elementary schools have no libraries. The schools are not open after school hours. Many of the after school programs that were once supported by Philly Safe and Sound are gone.

The Kinsessing Library is right next to a school that goes to sixth grade. I had an elementary school kid a few years ago. And if I would not allow her to to walk on city streets in Mt. Airy to the nearest library, let alone in West Philly where traffic and crime is worse.

I introduced myself to some of the leaders of the rally and they asked me to speak because West Mt. Airy Neighbors had supported them. That reminded me how important it is for all the neighborhoods in the city to band together and fight these library closing. I made three quick points:

1. Closing some libraries adds to the burden on other ones.

2. If we allow these branches to close, it will be harder to protect our own when the next fiscal crisis comes or when the library has to figure out how to operate our new 130 million central library expansion.

3. If we want our kids to live in this city, we need it to surive. And it won't if we don't educated all our. We can't do that without libraries.

We really are all in this together.

So, if you are part of a neighborhood association that is not losing a library, please go to that group and ask them to work to stop the branch closings.

Well I do think Mr. Paine needs to look at the map too

But you are are wrong on their placement in relation to population density and in particular wrong on Kingsessing.

Library closings

I would suggest that Kingsessing in particular leaves a big giant hole in SW Philly, that Durham in Mantua leaves a big giant hole in coverage for Mantua, Powelton, West Powelton, Belmont and Mill Creek. I would suggest the clustering of closings around Logan, Ogontz, Wadsworth seems geographically anamolous. In terms of considering nothing but geographic coverage it seems like keeping open Fishtown and Marrero and closing Kensington would make the most sense since it sits in between the other two.

I would concur with Rep. Cohen's comments on Sat. that one of the particularly glaring flaws in the choices of closings is that in low and moderate income areas the trend for library usage is dramatically increasing because of the increasing importance for community access to the internet, access to free reading materials. You can't really look for a job these days without computer access, for example. Computer traffic in turn leads to increasing book borrowing while people are there.

Meanwhile in more prosperous areas the trend in recent years is decreasing usage do to the widespread use of broadband at home and purchasing on Amazon and other discount book sellers.

The choice of location to make the cuts (if cutting locations is in fact really required) this time is precisely wrong in terms of likely future trends for library usage resulting from the spreading digital divide.

Beyond that to talk about my local branch again (I'll admit it), the Kingsessing Library is about 90 years old. It was a gift from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation and it sits in the middle Rec Center land. Its an ornate and historic building with the words "Kingsessing Branch" carved in stone over the door. The idea the city could ever profitably sell the site for some other usage "Buy your condo in the hood surrounded by little league Rec Center kids who always remember you took their library away now" is patently absurd.

Argue "right-sizing" Philly government in other ways, but the idea that there is some coherent geographic strategy to the closings is absurd if you really look at the map generally and especially if you look at Kingsessing.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

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