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Is the city choosing style over substance in its library scheduling?

Let's say you're a patron of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Which one of these scenarios would you prefer:

1) Several libraries in the 54-branch system have to go to reduced schedules, open only four days a week.

2) The branch libraries stick to a 5-day a week schedule, but pretty much every day there are "unscheduled closings." You could show up at your library, needing a book, planning to use the computer, perhaps planning to meet your kid there after school ... and there's a sign in the window telling you it's closed.

For now, we'll leave out options 3 (find more revenue for the library system) and 4 (close branch libraries) and stick to this narrower conversation: The upshot of Kirstin Lindermayer's report for It's Our Money today is that the Library system has, for the past several months, been promising to deliver services that it's incapable of delivering.

The situation will improve once several newly-hired security guards arrive in February, and until then, the Library will, actually, be taking a few neighborhood branches down to a four-day a week schedule to help reduce unscheduled closings.

But as Library President and Director Siobhan Reardon told Kirstin, even with the guards, the Library won't be able to guarantee that there won't be unscheduled closings. Amy Dougherty, of Friends of the Free Library, says the system is more than ten percent below where it needs to be in terms of staff.

You have to wonder whether it makes sense to stick to a five-day schedule, given these circumstances. And if you want to be a little cynical, you have to wonder whether the city isn't sticking to the schedule simply so it can say the libraries are open five days a week ... even though they're not, really. The mayor got a lot of bad publicity for proposing library closings, but is the appropriate response really to enact de facto closings that citizens can't plan around?

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