Save YOUR Library

At 9:20 almost every Friday morning, Miss Mary marches her group of two, three, and four-year-old children to storytime at the Inglenook Library. They sit on the floor, watching the storyteller show them another world, another character of a book. They clap their hands and sing the “Welcome Song.” They act silly and dance to “Tooty-Ta.” But if this branch along with four others closes, they won’t be marching, singing, or clapping.

The Art Kids program at East Ensley had 16 participants. Those children and teens who didn’t participate, quietly worked on the free computers. In that class, the children were introduced to art and painting, something that had been taken out of the Birmingham City Schools. It was a way for them to express themselves, learn creativity, and demonstrate skills and techniques. They were proud of their masterpieces. They felt better about themselves. If this branch closes, these children are left with nowhere to go after school. Some will find themselves getting in trouble. Many will have their self-esteem crushed.

I’ll be honest, I don’t envy the guy. He’s inherited a mess that he has to clean up, and the solution is stinging a lot of agencies directly affected by it.

Mayor William Bell has the daunting task of, not just trimming the city budget, but amputating chunks to get the city back on its feet. I’m sure he’s frustrated. I’m sure he’s tired. He risks coming off as a bad guy hacking away at the financial jungle. And that machete is making drastic cuts in light of drastic measures.

But Bell isn't the bad guy here. He's just doing what is necessary. He hopes it would be temporary, long enough to set things right. But, right now, many are saying some of the proposals are wrong. No, I definitely don’t envy him.

One of the proposed budget casualties is five library branches, nestled in the thick of the poorest neighborhoods of Birmingham. The Birmingham Public Library director, associate directors, and board members are working and hoping to find another way. They want to save the Slossfield, North Avondale, East Ensley, Inglenook, and Ensley branches. I don’t envy them either.

Because if they don’t find another way, how can you tell those communities that their main access to free computers, resources, children’s programs, and meeting places will be gone? How can you tell folks that one tool they have to look for jobs will no longer be available? How can you tell children who walk to the library after school that they no longer have a safe place to gather and they now are more vulnerable to gang activity and crimes?

Library employees can complain and contest all we want, but we won’t be loud enough for City Hall to hear without the community lending their voices along side us. You know, it’s not just about our jobs. Believe me. Many don’t go into the library business for the money. Admittedly, many of us go into it because we’re nerds and geeks…and proud of it. But a whole lot of us are in it because we know the good the library does.

We help parents help their children learn to read. We even help parents themselves learn to read. We enjoy seeing a child’s eyes light up when she sees books come to life through storytelling and other programs. We offer crafts and events to help children learn about other cultures. We take time showing someone how to draft a resume so that she could find a better job. We encourage children that learning and reading is fun. We get over our snake phobias to provide excellent animal programs to give children a hands-on learning experience. And we love it.

We need YOU to save YOUR libraries. It's not just about losing branches. It's about losing materials and programs that benefit so many communities. It's about being a safe haven for children after school. It's about networking for people who need jobs. It's about introducing young ones to a world of learning. It’s about Miss Mary’s class and others like them. It’s about all of us doing what it right for the least among us.

So take a break from Farmville and whatever else you're doing. Contact City Hall (http://www.informationbirmingham.com/birmingham-city-council.aspx). Become a Friend of the Library (https://secure.qgiv.com/cps_donors/?key=MRLAQ5Q3BBMWSN69V7WP). Let's do something when we have the power to make a difference.