New Year’s Eve, Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox put a stop to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to shut down 11 of the city’s library branches, as part of his proposal to address the city’s $1 billion budget deficit.
Siding with three City Council members and seven library patrons who sued Nutter last week, Fox ruled in a preliminary oral decision that Nutter’s library closings would violate an ordinance requiring City Council to approve the closing of any city building, and that the libraries must therefore remain open until and unless City Council authorizes otherwise. According to Fox, Nutter could and should have consulted City Council about the closings ahead of time, but “he did not do that.”
Since Nutter first proposed the library closings, Philadelphia residents have been desperately voicing protests—particularly in neighborhoods where libraries offer one of the few safe places for kids to go after school. Many argue that closing the libraries will necessarily increase the amount of violence in their vicinities; others point out that cutting off patrons’ free access to internet and other resources would deprive them of much-needed information and services.
I tend to agree with them: closing a quarter of a city’s libraries is not a step towards making it a better place to live. That this is even being considered as a viable solution to the city’s economic problems says extremely distressing things about the state of humanitarian values in Philadelphia’s legislative system. While the city is grateful for Fox’s ruling, many of us worry that it can’t possibly be permanent.
Nutter, however, remains focused on costs. Closing the libraries would save the city a full $8 million a year, he says—money that it increasingly needs as the local economy continues to worsen. He plans to appeal Judge Fox’s decision as soon as he receives it in writing.