Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Andrew Christman (Fishtown branch) Testimony at City Council May 9 (transcript)

MR. CHRISTMAN: Hello. My name is Andrew Christman. I'm an artist, teacher and parent and voter from Fishtown Philadelphia, and in the interest of being brief, I'm just going to read a short statement.

The Fishtown branch of the Free Library serves a community that has been hit especially hard by the latest cutbacks of essential services in our city. For example, we have lost a fire engine and two neighborhood pools. Additionally, the Northeastern Hospital in nearby Port Richmond is slated for closure in June.

Amidst these devastating and demoralizing closures, our library is a beacon of hope for my neighbors and I. We will be depending upon our library as a resource for job searches and research about health issues. Children and adults will be looking for engaging programming and a cool place to spend the day in the absence of pools. Parents will be going to the library with their children to participate in book clubs and to take out books.

Nevertheless, our library is already very strained due to underfunding, rolling closures and understaffing. For example, programs for our story hour have been halted due to the uncertainty of budgets and schedules for service. In recent car drives, young families who have recently arrived at Fishtown have been our largest groups to sign up for cards at our branch. However, lack of materials, programs and inconsistent hours may deter them from becoming active library users. We have several very dedicated high school students who volunteer at our branch because they have chosen our library as the place to make a positive contribution to their community. Not only are they helpful to our staff, but they are role models for the smaller children who come to our libraries daily. It is our concern that their participation in the Fishtown branch will dwindle as disrupted services provides fewer opportunities for them to be there.

Twenty percent of Fishtown families live below the poverty level. This was a statistic generated by a census before this economic catastrophe. I can say with certainly based on my experiences at the Fishtown branch that many of our library patrons are folks in need of the strained resources in our branch. Our amazing and dedicated library staff is always working tirelessly to attend the needs of everyone at this increase -- and this is an increasingly difficult task when their attentions are being divided between other branches for assignments and also they're struggling to make the best they can do with the resources there.

It appears ironic to Fishtowners that despite the efforts of the City to support the construction of new condominiums and casinos and local economic development groups' efforts to make Girard Avenue and Frankford Avenue corridors for the arts, there is money being taken away from essential services which are assets to our community and draws families and new homeowners to our neighborhood. Such cuts makes fools of us who have decided to live in the City because we hope to raise our families in communities that are vibrant, safe and have amazing neighborhood services such as Fishtown.

Recent events have deeply divided Fishtowners on the issue of the casino on Delaware Avenue, but I can assure you that all of Fishtown is united around our library, and we will hold the City Council responsible if they vote for a budget that cuts service from the libraries.

Thank you very much.


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