When was the last time you went to the library? When was the last time you even thought about the library – had a conversation, read an article, checked out their web site?
Unless we’re talking about the downtown bar, most people in Fort Worth probably won’t be able to answer that question. In today’s busy era, most people simply don’t have time for the library. It is part of a forgotten past, when books were the only method of learning, and time moved at a slower, more relaxed pace. Nowadays kids have the internet, which means a world of information at their fingertips; and the library just can’t compete in this age of technology.
Until now: This summer, the Fort Worth Public Library made strong advances to meet the changing times and keep libraries relevant. These were great changes. Computers! WiFi! A snazzy logo! Wonderful! The new Fort Worth Library is trying to be more accessible and modern, trying to bring back reading and education, and I applauded this decision.
But only a few months after this revamping, the library is executing another Big Change: As of Sept. 27, most library branches are open a mere 40 hours a week, usually from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed two days, and open late (until 8!) one evening a week. For those of us who work until 5 or 6 p.m., this means that libraries are now virtually inaccessible. Gone is the vision of the library as a safe haven where one can retreat to read and study in a quiet, peaceful, and educated atmosphere. In school, I loved studying at the library, but I didn’t appreciate it. I took it for granted, as a right of citizenship, and never imagined that it could be taken away. We all did, but our lack of concern for a public institution has now resulted in its slow demise.
Mayor Mike Moncrief has admitted that people may be upset about this change, but he points to the lack of an increase in taxes as a consolation. That’s irrelevant. What’s the point of an innovative, quality library – that our tax dollars paid for – if it is always closed? And don’t we pay taxes for basic public services that should be available to all Americans? Police protection, trash and sewer services, a justice system … libraries used to fit into that equation. Instead, we are left paying for a library system that is almost completely inaccessible to us.
What’s almost as amazing is the incredible lack of information the public is receiving. There has been only one mention of this issue in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in an article regarding city budget cuts. Apparently, city spending in the past few years has been so high (Was anyone aware of that? Does anyone know where that money went?) that now the city council has voted to make large cuts in departments such as healthcare and housing, including cutting jobs. The library was also listed among the cuts, but the article seemed to reassure us that it was no big deal: “The hours will be shortened at the Central Library and its branches. But the plan was changed to keep the libraries open in the afternoons and evenings, when they’re typically used by students and families.”
So the library was safe after all, I thought. My faith in city hall was strengthened: Here was confirmation that, as I thought, the people’s cries were heard and the city realized how absurd it would have been to cut library hours. But when I re-read the article, I was still a little confused. So I called the writer. Unfortunately, he seemed a little confused too – he could only say the hours were going to remain the same. I called the library. And the bad news is, the cuts in hours are going forward as planned. If local citizens are basing their knowledge on the daily paper, how many even realize what’s happening?
How have we, as a community, become so apathetic about local services and news that this is even possible? Why has no one come forward to ask questions of the city council or the Star-Telegram? I urge any readers interested in the continuation of long library hours and reliable news sources to write letters, make calls, and have your opinion heard.
And to the stay-at-home parents, people with nontraditional work schedules, students, and the unemployed: Please take advantage of the library. It’s all yours now.
Victoria Burson is a local freelance writer who visits the library often.