Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sherrie Cohen (Ogontz branch) Testimony at City Council May 9 (transcript)

MS. COHEN: Hello, Councilwoman Verna and other City Council members. My name is Sherrie Cohen, as you know, and I'm the daughter of Councilman David Cohen in whose honor the Ogontz Library is named. The library was renamed the David Cohen Ogontz Library after my father died in 2005 in recognition of the 36 years he, my mother, Florence Cohen, and the entire Ogontz community fought for a library to serve their community. The David Cohen Ogontz Library is a library borne of struggle. It is also the newest library branch in the City and opened in 1997.

The question before City Council today is, do you want to pay on the front end or the back end of people's lives? Do you want to invest in young people? Do you want to invest in our communities or will Philadelphia continue to suffer the ravages of disinvestment and decline, high unemployment, poverty and mass incarceration?

Our libraries are a beacon of light in our communities, a sanctuary, a community center, a hub of information and resources. The library promises a step up in life for our school children, our young adults and job-seekers of all ages.

Our libraries need to have the resources, the days open, the staffing that we had in November before the Mayor slashed the Free Library budget by 20 percent. This 20 percent cut has crippled our libraries at a time when library visits are up 21 percent in the City.

Our library, the David Cohen Ogontz Library, is operating with one-third less staff since November, including the loss of our full-time municipal guard who was laid off. The new Free Library rule of four, which requires four staff needed in order to open the library, including a security guard, has left our library closed on too many days since November, leaving community members irate because of a lack of access to the community's facilities.

People who need the services of the library are being turned away on a daily basis because of unscheduled closings and irregular hours. On a recent day when there was an unscheduled closing, children from a daycare center approached the library. Their collective cry, “The library is closed!” could break your heart.

Also, our libraries' materials budgets have been cut by 30 percent. There is no money to purchase summer reading book lists for students in grades one through 12. There's no budget for the summer reading programming for children, teens or adults. Our after-school program has seen cuts in hours for after-school leaders and student assistants. Program money has been eliminated. Outreach activities have been suspended. There are no funds for Saturday overtime for staff to participate in community events and health fairs. Our library staff is overworked, and morale is low.

The Free Library's new five-day-a-week schedule is insufficient to accommodate the large numbers of people seeking to use our City's libraries. For example, we have so many people now using our library that children can only use the computers 15 minutes each day and adults only one half hour each day.

We thank City Council for standing with us when the Mayor sought to close our library and ten other libraries by December 31st. We ask you to stand with us now. Councilman Jones is considering the introduction of legislation to restore the $8 million to the Free Library budget that the Mayor cut in November.


MS. COHEN: We ask you to please support this legislation.

I'm a member of the Friends of the David Cohen Ogontz Library. Many of our members are active with the Coalition to Save the Libraries, whose organizing we credit with the saving of our libraries from closure. The Coalition to Save the Libraries is in turn a member organization of the Coalition for Essential Services. We support the demands of the Essential Services Coalition for no cuts to services and fair and equitable taxation.

We want City Council to adopt a budget that invests in our neighborhoods, creates quality jobs for our residents and is adequately funded by a progressive tax system in which corporations, large non-profit institutions and individuals pay their fair share.

Thank you.


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