In two weeks, the city that once enjoyed the largest book circulation in the world could find itself entirely without public libraries. The Free Library of Philadelphia announced earlier this month that unless the State Legislature approves the city’s budgetary requests, all branch, regional, and central libraries will close their doors and suspend programming effective Friday, October 2.
At a press conference in August, Philly mayor Michael Nutter said the cuts—which also call for reduced court funding, the elimination of rec centers, and the dismissal of up to three thousand public employees—could be obviated by implementing a one-cent hike in sales tax and deferring pension fund payments for two years. But the so-called “doomsday” plan looked increasingly likely this week as Pennsylvania’s State Senate failed to agree on a budget. “Even as we remain hopeful that the State Legislature will act and pass the enabling funding legislation,” said library director Siobhan Reardon in an online statement, “we wanted to notify all of our customers of this very possible outcome.”
Consequences of the impending closure for library patrons include the cancellation of community programs (including after-school activities for children) and the discontinuation of ESL and GED courses—an especially unwelcome prospect for a city in which four hundred thousand adults still lack high school diplomas. Last week, the system called an end to interlibrary loans and put a reduced borrowing period into effect: All library materials are now due October 1.
For patrons wishing to learn more about the cutbacks, the Free Library of Philadelphia has posted details on its Web site. They are also urging Pennsylvanians to contact their elected officials.