Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eleanor Childs (Durham branch) testimony at City Council May 9 (transcript)

MS. CHILDS: Good morning to President Verna and to the rest of the 23 Councilpeople and their representatives that are in the room today. We're glad that you're here. My name is Eleanor Childs. I'm here representing myself. I'm a citizen of Philadelphia. I'm also representing my school, Montessori Genesis II, which is a non-profit, small, private, independent school in the Mantua community. I'm representing the Coalition to Save the Libraries and I'm representing the Durham branch of the Free Libraries.


MS. CHILDS: First of all, let me just thank the Council, because the last time I was here, I was with 50 people. It was my whole school, 16 three-year-olds all the way up to the 17 ten-year-olds, all of my staff, and we 18 were sitting in the gallery and we were so happy and felt so blessed that the Council voted on that day a resolution to put off the closing of the libraries until there was time to further discuss the issue and how it could be taken care of. And so we stood. We gave you our applause. We were very proud of you, and I wanted to thank you personally today.

During the interim between that time and now, that same school, along with schools, children, teenagers, adults, seniors of all races and creeds, those of us who are pierced and those of us who are tattooed and those of us who are not, those of us who are artistic, those of us who are number crunchers, I mean, throughout this city there was a ground swell of interest and concern about the closing of the libraries. People rose up. We had our pitchforks. We were rebels, we were rousers, and we fought to keep the libraries open, and we were very pleased that Judge Fox stood with us and the libraries were kept open.

Since that time, many people have felt that, Oh, thank goodness, the libraries are safe, but, in fact, we know that libraries are more than buildings, and so to say that we're going to keep those buildings open is not adequate unless we are going to give the resources both in people, in skills, in material. Unless those resources are going to be there, then those libraries are in fact not there. They are in fact, or de facto, closed.

And so we are here today, I am here today to say that my Durham Library is in jeopardy. We worry about whether or not our doors are going to be open. We worry about whether we are going to have enough staff people to do all of the myriad of jobs that they do. We worry about whether or not there will be those resources for the people of the Mantua community and the Powelton Village community, who together make up the community of the Durham branch of the Free Library.

There are so many uses that that library facilitate, and as I'm sure most of you know by now, because there have been just an uncountable number of articles that have been written in our major media as well as our minor media, the libraries are fulfilling a need at this point in time that we don't know whether they were ever meant to fill. They were always meant to offer the freedom of information, the ability to educate one's self, the ability to just enjoy the word. They were always meant to do those things, and as we know, they are a time-tested, cost-effective successful way of doing all of those things.
We don't have to have a special hearing to prove that. We don't have to have blue ribbon commissions to prove that. That's a known quantity.

But what they are doing at this point is making it possible for the citizens of Philadelphia, the citizens of the United States to find jobs, to follow up on the procedures for getting a job, to even hear back from an employee whether or not they got the job.

What the libraries are doing now is that they are offering not only a safe haven for children, but a respite place for adults who are under tremendous stress and strain during this very time of economic downturn, that they need a place where they can feel safe, where -- I'm talking about the adults -- where they can feel safe, where they can feel that someone cares about them and someone will help them to work through all of the things that they need to do to take care of themselves and to take care of their families.

Many librarians are at this point saying that they are becoming stressed because so much of this job is falling on their shoulders. This is not the time to pull back from the libraries. This is not the time to cut their resources. This is the time to say thank you, thank you that someone has been smart enough to create an entity like a public library that was flexible enough to move into this area of help and support for all of our citizens.

So I'm here today to ask you, number one, to be aware that when 20 percent was cut from the Durham Library and ten other branch libraries, it was in a way a decimation of our libraries, and that I would wish that you would put that 20 percent back.

I'm also here –


MS. CHILDS: -- today to say there is absolutely no way that you can take anything else out of the libraries. It is not going to work to have my Durham Library buddy up with another library, be open three days a week and then the staff run back and forth between libraries. That's not going to work.


MS. CHILDS: That is not going to work. We need our library to be safe. We need our library to be secure. And I mean the library itself. We need the staff, the professional librarians, the materials, the books, all of the other resources that a library has. We need those things to be in there and functioning at the best of levels.

One of my students, he's six years old, he's in the first grade. He is a mischievous little boy and gets in a lot of trouble. So sometimes when I see him, I have jaundiced eyes and I don't know what I'm going to be facing that day. But early last week, he came into school. He had a handful of money. This is it, $2.50, one dollar bill and lots of change, and he handed it to me and he said, Ms. Childs, I want to give this to the libraries to keep them open. So I was asked today by Channel 10, Oh, well, isn't that a good way for maybe the libraries to stay open, if everybody gives money. Well, I would like every child in the City of Philadelphia to bring a penny or a dime, but we know that all that would really do would be a practice in allowing children to learn that they can stand up for things that they believed in and that they in fact could contribute, but when it comes down to the true funding of our libraries and our other essential services, it has to be us, the adults, who make the decision of where to place those finances in order to have those services available to all of our citizens.

Thank you.


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