09 October 2009

Who Can Save Sunday Library Hours?

The City and County of Denver has to make budget cuts in the face of declining sales tax revenues, just like almost every other state and local government in the United States during the current financial crisis.

One of the cuts that Mayor Hickenlooper has proposed is to close all of the city's libraries on Sunday. The cuts to the Central Branch library Sunday hours are anticipated to save the City $269,100 per year, a little more than $10,000 per week. The City has sought private assistance in keeping four recreation centers that are scheduled to close open, however, and this little piece of the budget would be another natural place to seek partial private help.

Currently, the central branch of the Denver Public Library is open for a half a day on Sunday afternoon for a few hours, while all other branches are closed. On Sunday, the Central Branch is Denver's Public Library. I currently make heavy use of those hours, just as I make heavy use of Colorado's new Sunday hours for liquor stores (a change sponsored by my own State Senator Jennifer Veiga). It isn't always easy to get home, grab the kids and make it to a branch which closes at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. on weekdays. Many banks are only open on Saturday mornings and that is also a common time for kids athletic events. Many branches are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, but sometimes for a variety of reasons, Saturday afternoons get booked too.

The Sunday hours of the library, together with the seven day a week schedules of the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Art Museum Sunday hours in synch with the Denver Public Library Central branch's Sunday hours (DAM closes on Mondays) are symbolic of the fact that we are a tolerant place that isn't a "hick town" despite our darker past (embodied in the likes of the KKK backed former Mayor Stapleton after whom the Northeast Denver neighborhood built on the site of the former Stapleton airport is named). (One wonders if the hours at this branch would have been cut if the Mayor still lived in Lodo instead of Park Hill, where he now resides).

Sunday hours for the library add to the vibrancy of the City and County of Denver, which is one of the reason that a majority of the metro areas building permits came from Denver during the area's real estate downturn, even though Denver proper is almost landlocked and makes up only about a quarter of the metro area population.

Who could step in? I haven't talked to anyone soliciting help, but some ideas come to mind for a short list.

One possibility would be an interfaith coalition of groups representing those for whom Sunday is not a key day of religious observance.

The Jewish community (perhaps through the Jewish Community Center), the Seventh Day Adventist Community (which has a regional headquarters near Harvard Gulch park), the secular community (perhaps through the Freedom from Religion Foundation which last year spent money on billboards a few blocks from the central branch library), and the Muslim community (perhaps through the Colorado Muslim Society) could each chip in a little.

The Central branch's Sunday hours are a little league version to all of these communities of what Chinese restaurants are to Jews on Christmas.

The Roman Catholic Church doesn't strictly fit this definition, but thirty-two of the parish churches in the Archdiocese of Denver which are located in Denver proper offer a Saturday anticipated Mass, and for those attendees, a Sunday opening time for the Central Branch would be useful. For those who attend services at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese (on Pennsylvania and East Colfax), the Mother of God parish church (at Grant and Speer), the Holy Ghost parish (downtown), and the St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish (on the Auraria campus), the Central Branch of Denver Public Library is closer than any other branch of the Denver Public Library.

Perhaps the Denver Lodge #5 chapter of the Free Masons, whose lodge is just a few blocks away at 16th and Welton would look forward to an opportunity to further the values of interfaith cooperation and the pursuit of estoric knowledge, that the current organization touts. Denver's Scottish Rite Masons, who have a most excellent Masonic Center building just two blocks from the Central Branch library, might join in the effort, in a spirit of friendly competition with the peers at Denver Lodge #5. The First Unitarian Society of Denver for similar reasons, in addition to its advocacy for Denver's homeless (for whom a day without a public bathroom near Civic Center would be a hardship) might also help.

Capital Hill United Neighborhoods, Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association and the Golden Triangle Association, all of which are local neighborhood associations (basically organized city lobbying and zoning consultation groups), might help because this is their local library that serves their community. Perhaps Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., whose neighborhood library at the Governor's Mansion is the Central Branch, would symbolically pitch in a little as well.

The Denver Public Schools (which is facing less deep cuts than the City because it has a more stable tax base and state constitutional funding protections), whose procastinating students all put off their research projects until Sunday afternoon when the only library in town is the Central Branch, might also chip in on behalf of their students who get so much value from the Sunday service. Notably, the Aurora Public Library, which is currently in even more dire fiscal straights, has a branch open on Sunday afternoons during the school year for this very purpose.

Westword whose headquarters in also in the neighborhood, might help because I'm sure that some of their staff make professional use of the Central Library on Sundays and this free weekly has always shown intense editorial interest in the fate of the Civic Center Park area, of which the Denver Public Library Central branch is a part.

Can all cuts be avoided? No. I know that money is tight. I know that it is too late to put a TABOR waiver to raise new tax revenues on the ballot for this fiscal year, even if it was politically feasible to do so. The total library system is cutting about $3.2 million this year and I know that stopping all of that, including the closure of a branch library, may be impossible. But, preserving four symbolically and practically important hours of library service at a single branch library in the entire city, with at least partial private help from organizations like the ones that I have identified, seems within the realm of the possible. It also doesn't hurt to recall that those cuts are mostly coming out of the personal budgets of a lot of librarians.


Dave Barnes said...

Perhaps we could privatize the library system and as a result cut every employee's wages by 20% and then keep the libraries open on Sunday.

Just a thought.

My income went down this year. Why shouldn't theirs?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Denver's protective services workers are basically making that choice, taking lower pay in exchange for fewer layoffs.

Jude said...

As Denver's library goes, so go those of the rest of the state. Denver Public's purchases and resources are shared beyond the borders of Denver. But librarians are used to temporary cutbacks and shortages and creativity.

Michael Malak said...

The general concept of separation of powers demands that public libraries be eliminated. If in a democracy the people are the watchdogs of the government, and knowledge is the power of the people, then government cannot be the one to make editorial and volume selections.

I haven't visited a Denver library since moving here in 2006, but I know that, for example, my neighborhood library in Northern Virginia had no books on school choice and no Catholic Bibles.