Jill Porter: Celebration of blocked library closures won't last long
Jill Porter: What better way to end the year than with a glorious civic triumph delivered yesterday by Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox.
WHAT BETTER way to end the year than with a glorious civic triumph delivered yesterday by Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox.
Her ruling preventing today's planned closing of 11 library branches was to be cheered for reasons galore.
But the celebration may be as short-lived as the bubbles in an open bottle of champagne.
For one thing, the injunction is temporary, and will be appealed by the city.
Even if the ruling is upheld, the city could potentially prevail in the vote by City Council that Judge Fox said is required before any city buildings can be closed. Mayor Nutter, of course, acted unilaterally and claimed no such vote was necessary.
But most of all, the budget crisis is real. There's lint in the bottom of the city's pockets and the library system is starved for resources.
"In the very short run, our problem is, where do we find the people and the money to keep the branches open when we were told we don't have the money?" said Robert Heim, chair of the library's board of trustees.
That's why the effort to find private benefactors to fund library branches shouldn't be derailed by yesterday's court ruling.
That effort is just as urgent - if not more - as it was when the libraries were scheduled to close today.
Nutter announced Monday that he was exploring the idea of of having private operators turn shuttered branches into "knowledge centers," which would provide similar services without city funding.
Nutter was vague about it, and gave no specifics.
Shelly Yanoff, head of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, discussed that strategy to preserve library services at a one-on-one meeting with Nutter the week before last.
Yanoff initiated the meeting after she and two others - Amy Dougherty, head of the Friends of the Free Library, and Debra Kahn, head of Delaware Valley Grantmakers, a trade association for 150 local philanthropies - sketched out possible ways to make it happen.
"Some of our members have expressed an interest," Kahn said of the public and family foundations, corporate giving programs and other donors who are members of DVG.
Surely, the private sector should support the libraries even if the city is forced to keep them open.
Yanoff declined to discuss the meeting or the plan yesterday, because of fears it might be derailed if details became public.
Even before yesterday's ruling, the uprising to save the libraries was an inspiration in itself.
I marveled at the array of protesters gathered in Judge Fox's courtroom.
There were young white women with piercings and purple hair and older black women with going-to-church suits and hats. There were young black men in dreadlocks and older white men in sport jackets glossy with age.
"It's a groundswell," said Eleanor Childs, a private-school teacher who attended the hearing and a rally outside City Hall yesterday morning.
"I've met people from all over the city."
That's what libraries are all about, Dougherty said.
"The coalition that we built speaks to the change and wonderfulness of the city, but it also speaks to the libraries because they are the places in communities that bring people together," she said.
Neighborhoods change ethnically and otherwise, and the library is often the only bridge across the divide.
"They not only provide you with knowledge and instruction but the ability to meet somebody from a totally different background."
So, cheers for the comeuppance the coalition gave to library and city officials who decided to close branches without exploring other options in the open process we were promised by Mayor Nutter.
Cheers to City Council members Bill Green, Jannie Blackwell and Jack Kelly for joining the public citizenry in the successful suit against the closings.
Cheers to the lesson that shuttering libraries is the political third rail and whoever tries to do it will be scorched by the shock.
Perhaps Irv Ackelsberg, the victorious lawyer for the plaintiffs, put it best:
"People love their libraries," he said yesterday after the ruling.
"Do they love any other city department?
"Why would the city with all of its trouble destroy the one agency that everybody loves?" *
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