LGBT Dallasites should rally behind efforts to restore funds to valuable community asset
The latest threat to the Dallas Public Library system — from city officials who want to cut services in an effort to balance the budget shortfall — is nothing new to veteran librarians.
They’ve traveled this treacherous road countless times before.
It seems like every time the city faces a new budget crisis, someone suggests taking an axe to the city’s impressive library system. It’s either that or jack up municipal taxes some more, they contend.
As it has in the past, the slash-and-burn attack under consideration is setting the stage for a showdown.
The battle will likely be bloodier this year because of the scope of the planned plundering, which also targets street services, parks and recreation centers, the police department and other key services.
And it’s a fight the LGBT community should join in large numbers.
With the library’s mission of making available a "broad spectrum of ideas reflecting diverse points of view" and providing "collections that reflect the needs and diversity of the community it serves," it’s obviously a resource that needs protection.
To some, the library system is an easy target.
With a large central operation in downtown Dallas and 26 small neighborhood branches scattered throughout the city, it is a costly endeavor that many people view as less than essential during tough economic times.
The proposal on the table now, according to a report in The Dallas Morning News, would cut the service hours at J. Erik Jonsson Central Library from 44 to 22 hours per week.
The branches would go from 40 to 20 hours per week.
The library system would lose about $9 million in funding, and that’s on top of the $6 million it lost in the current fiscal year. The budget for new materials would be cut in half, having already been cut in half this year from the $3 million allotted to it last year.
In short, they’re talking about dealing a near deathblow to the library and its employees, one that would overwhelm the operation.
It is no wonder librarians have put out an S.O.S. to their faithful supporters, of whom there fortunately are many in Dallas. A campaign is now underway by those loyal patrons to battle the cost-cutting plan, and you can expect it to be loud and hard fought.
Library patrons can become surprisingly aggressive when you threaten the survival of an institution they believe is critical to the well being of any city.
They believe library services help promote the qualities that all communities need: higher literacy rates, lower crime, educated and skilled work forces and good business climates.
In addition to making books, videos and audios available for checkout, the library system offers free computer, graduate equivalency diploma and English as a second language courses. It hosts programs to help children read better and assists job hunters in seeking employment.
To the LGBT community, the libraries have always been a sanctuary. Not only were they a safe place where we sometimes could meet like-minded people, the resources could help answer the questions we had about our identities that weren’t available to us anywhere else.
For me, stumbling across Gore Vidal’s "The City and the Pillar" as a teenager, which was published in 1948 (a year before I was born), was a life-changing event. It confirmed what I was slowly coming to realize on my own — maybe I wasn’t as unusual and isolated as I had feared I was.
I suspect that many a young gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person has had a similar experience at the Oak Lawn Library, which has been a fixture in our community for at least three decades.
The library has never made any secret about its large collection of LGBT materials, and I’m sure many a young person has made the trip to Oak Lawn from wherever they lived to take advantage of it. I’ve often seen them there in the stacks browsing.
In short, the library system and its employees are our friends and a valuable resource that we need to protect. So you might want to let your City Council representative know how you feel about an effort to sharply curtail its resources and services.
David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who lives on Cedar Creek Lake now. He is the author of the blog TheRareReporter.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 04, 2010.
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