More than 800 computer terminals, 167 printers and 54 fiber broadband connections, which account for 1.3 million annual computer reservations at the Free Library of Philadelphia, could soon be covered in dust.
Red signs threatening the Oct. 2 closure of the regional library system were hard to spot as patrons checked email, printed documents and watched YouTube videos in a computer lab in the east wing of the historic Central Library on Vine Street Tuesday afternoon.
As the city awaits legislators in Harrisburg to pass House Bill 1828 – which would allow the city to increase local sales tax and defer pension contributions – threats of severe city-wide budget cuts in Mayor Michael Nutter’s “Plan C” doomsday budget are more real than ever; they’re printed on placards throughout 54 Free Library branches in the city.
City services could see $700 million in cuts, including Philadelphia’s library system, which faces a $29.6 million reduction and the loss of 490 positions.
Free Library Chief Technology Officer and executive staff member Jim Pecora says that a closure could severely affect patrons who need Internet access.
“This city and state budget situation will throw us back to the stone-ages if SB 1828 isn’t passed,” he said in a candid e-mail to Technically Philly.
The possible closure of the Free Library has spurred international interest since commenters of the popular group blog Boing Boing offered moral support to the city after reading a superbly penned column written by site co-editor Cory Doctorow.
“Think of the nobility of libraries and librarianship, the great scar that the Burning of Alexandria gouged in human history,” Doctorow wrote, comparing it to the loss of the Free Library.
“Think of it and ask yourself what the hell has happened to us.”
Nutter is said to be headed to Harrisburg today to plead passage of 1828 before he issues layoff notices Friday to city employees, Philly Clout’s Catherine Lucey reports.
The Free Library’s Web site received 6.6 million visits in 2008, which is equivalent to the number of total visitors at all the physical branches combined, according to internal data. The organization’s average time-on-site is mind-blowing: more than 530,000 users each month visit the site for more than 30 minutes, 75 percent of whom come from outside the library.
Six hundred of the library’s 800 computers are located in the lowest broadband-use census tracts in the city. The organization submitted an application for a chance at federal broadband stimulus dollars last month.
“Pretty ironic when you think of all the talk about broadband and digital divide in Philadelphia,” Pecora says of the closure.
The Free Library urges you to contact elected officials to pass House Bill 1828. Contact information is available with this interactive map. More information is available at Free Library’s “How You Can Help” site.
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