Use your imagination for a moment, and picture with me a time when the free library system closes. The idea sort of reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, in which the government burns all books. On second thought, however (and putting nostalgia aside), with so much free exchange of information via the internet, are free libraries still needed in the same way they were historically?
Unfortunately, this prospect is not just some science-fiction. A state budget failed to pass in Pennsylvania, and now the whole Philadelphia free library system is set to close its doors at the end of the month (October 2nd to be precise).
I’ll repeat myself for emphasis: THE ENTIRE PHILADELPHIA FREE LIBRARY SYSTEM IS CLOSING AT THE END OF THE MONTH!
I know that I simply can’t imagine such a thing. On a personal note, the free library system is a huge part of my collection of childhood memories. Less personally, the free library system seems like one of the best public programs. It’s like imagining a city shutting down the postal system! No, it’s worse than that, as its consequences stretch far and wide. Consider the following, from the library website:
- All branch and regional library programs, including programs for children and teens, after school programs, computer classes, and programs for adults, will be cancelled
- All Parkway Central Library programs, including children programs, programs to support small businesses and job seekers, computer classes and after school programs, will be cancelled. We are exploring the possibility of relocating the Philadelphia Author Series programs to other non-library facilities.
- All library visits to schools, day care centers, senior centers and other community centers will cease.
- All community meetings at our branch and regional libraries, and the Parkway Central Library, will be cancelled.
- All GED, ABE and ESL programs held at Free Library branches will be discontinued, students should contact their teacher to see if other arrangements are being made.
As you can see, this goes far beyond the end of access to free books, magazines, movies, and music.
Because many of these items, though discontinued in print and in the “real world”, will still be available for free on the internet, it is the loss of free internet itself which presents one of the largest problems to me in this situation. The free library system is one of the few sources of free internet access to the low-income-earning public.
By closing its doors, the Philadelphia free library system is ending not only access to tons of free information and programs, but is also severely limiting access to the internet, that great web of free information.