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Philly mayor under fire for threatening libraries

This is the city where they
built, with Microsoft guidance, a big, new,
whoop-de-doop $46 million School of the Future
without books, so the mayor is following in
Microsoft's footprint.

By Kathy Matheson, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) ΓΆ€” Some of the loudest
protests over proposed city budget cuts in
Philadelphia are being voiced for places that
are usually ghostly quiet ΓΆ€” city libraries.
Mayor Michael Nutter was repeatedly booed
during a news conference Monday over his
decision to shutter 20 percent of the city's 54
library branches in an effort to help close an
estimated $1 billion spending gap over the next
five years.

The mayor, who estimated the 11 library
closings will save the city $8 million a year,
said the shuttered facilities may reopen as
public-private partnerships dubbed "knowledge
centers" if the city can find enough financial
That didn't go over well with Zachary Hershman,
one of a few dozen protesters at the mayor's
news conference. Hershman, 23, said the closing
of the library in his Kingsessing neighborhood
will lead to more dropouts, unemployment and
crime in an already poor and violent area.
The next nearest branch is overcrowded, he
said, with long waits for Internet use that
many residents need to access online job
Library advocates have been extremely vocal
since the mayor announced the budget cuts in
November. Seven residents and a municipal union
sued last week to stop the library closures,
contending they are illegal and endanger poorer
communities that don't have the luxuries of big
chain bookstores and home Internet access.
The mayor is making other cuts, including
lowering limits on curbside trash collection,
consolidating fire companies, closing 68 of 81
swimming pools, cutting back on snow removal
and cutting funding to the city's annual New
Year's Day Mummers Parade.

In response to the library cuts, Nutter said he
expected books, computers and other materials
to stay at the "knowledge centers." But he
could not say if the facilities would be
staffed by librarians.

The public-private partnerships could be with
individuals, corporations, nonprofits or
community groups, Nutter said, noting officials
have received interest in five or six of the

"We are working diligently every day on this
issue," Nutter said.

American Library Association president Jim
Rettig said libraries work best as publicly
funded entities with trained staff. "It makes
as much sense to privatize your libraries as it
does to privatize your police force," Rettig

To tell people to use another branch doesn't
help, he added. "Each branch has its own
character," Rettig said. "To say they can go to
another branch ΓΆ€” if that happens there will be
a real adjustment period."

— Kathy Matheson
Associated Press





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