I currently live outside the U.S. in a place commonly described as “less developed.” When I moved here, the first differences to become apparent were the cultural ones. They don’t have any theatrical stuff aside from a movie theater. There are not drug stores and gas stations on every corner (actually, there are few street corners–mostly traffic circles). And they lack the core social services at the heart of modern civilization. For example, I don’t know of any public libraries here.
I really miss having a library nearby, not only for accessing books and other reference material that I’d prefer not to buy, but also to have a place to work with Internet access without going to a coffee shop (they do have coffee shops here, but not so many of them). The Internet makes a lot of information easily accessible at the click of the button, but most books are still unavailable online without some kind of purchase, and that content almost always comes with DRM protection.
So it really made me sad to hear that the library in my hometown of Troy, Michigan, will be shutting down in May 2011. As the Oakland Press reports : “Following Oakland County’s example, the Troy City Council approved a three-year budget…cutting more than $4 million in services this year from last year’s budget level.”
In addition to closing the library, the city is also closing the community center, museum, and nature center. However, the city is allocating “$1.1 million for Civic Center improvements.” The Civic Center was built about ten years ago, in the spot where the original Troy High School stood. It’s a slick structure that probably cost millions of dollars to build. But it’s mostly used for the gym and pool facilities, and as a senior gathering center.
This is a city, after all, that was rated #22 out of 100 of the “best places to live” by CNN Money in 2008. What kind of “best place to live” doesn’t have one of the most basic features of so-called “modern” civilization???
Apparently this all stems from four failed library millage proposals in 2010, as stated on the Troy Public Library website. According to a comment from Ronald R. Lambert, this was not the decision of the public alone. Someone ran commercials telling voters to turn down the proposals (which were already confusing in themselves). And the very idea may have arisen because the Troy City Council had other priorities.
As Lambert writes, “One of the great features of Library Millage Proposal 1 was that it provided for the library to be administered by an independent board, taking it out of the hands of City Council.” Millage Proposal 1 needed only 338 more “yes” votes to pass (15061 yes, 15736 no).
I used to spend a lot of time at the Troy Public Library as a kid, listening to stories, playing computer games (this was the early ’90s, before we had a personal computer at home), and checking out books and music with my library card. It’s kind of heartbreaking to think that kids in Troy will no longer be able to do that. All this gets blamed on the “economy,” but really it says something about our priorities as a society.
Throughout the ’90s I had to watch Troy fill up every single open space with condos, mega-churches, and shopping centers. Any place that endorses that sort of civic development, but cuts out the means for citizens to educate and inform themselves, is a place setting itself up for disaster.
You can find more info on Troy Public Library’s post “Frequently Asked Questions About the Library Closing.”