The Logan branch of the Philadelphia Free Library smells and sounds like almost any other library.
The smell of old books permeates the T-shaped building’s interior. Students whisper to each other at tables adorned with warnings against cell phones and food. The computers always seem to have more traffic than the shelves. The Logan branch is different from other libraries, though. It isn’t going to be open much longer.
One of many cuts in a drastic budget rebalancing plan, the Logan branch will be closed in order to make up an approximately $1 billion shortfall in Philadelphia’s expenses over the next five years. Other cuts include 68 swimming pools in the city, 10 percent of the mayor’s salary and the business tax reduction, which will be postponed until 2015.
These cuts are drastic and severe. That being said, they are nothing short of necessary. In fact, like any difficult situation, it is an opportunity. Specifically, it is an opportunity to take on Philadelphia’s infamous inefficiency.
Nutter has already done this by making sure the programs and locations affected are the ones that will affect the city the least. Nutter’s senior press aide Luke Butler explained how the libraries to be closed were chosen.
“This was one of the most difficult decisions that was taken. A number of factors were taken into account,” Butler said.
He included among them “proximity to other libraries, the size and condition, the number of visitors and the number of children.”
“Anyone who has a library within two miles of them will continue to have one,” Butler said.
It’s time to apply this kind of judicious decision-making to the rest of the city. Now that it is absolutely necessary that the city become more efficient, it will be much easier to take on this patronage culture.
Jobs are not the only aspect of the city that could become more efficient. Closing the libraries will not be a serious detriment to the city if the remaining ones focus more on computers and less on books.
It sounds callous to say books shouldn’t be focused on, but computers are one of the most important assets working-class Philadelphians have when it comes to jobs. Searching for and applying to jobs is often done online. Also, many jobs require at least basic computer skills, which can only be attained by becoming familiar with computers first-hand.
In an ideal world, these cuts wouldn’t be necessary. Closing most of Philadelphia’s swimming pools isn’t going to help its children and students. The city has found itself in a massive funding deficit, and cuts have to be made.
The important part is the city’s taxpayers do not feel like they are bearing the majority of the burden. Nutter is setting a great example by including a pay cut for himself and his staff. Not only does it send the message that everyone is sharing the pain, it also assures Philadelphians that no source was overlooked.
City Council would be smart to cut its own salaries, too. Few people are going to have sympathy for City Council’s wallets when the members all receive salaries of $98,000 or more.
Stephen Zook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.