Amazon’s book city #1 avoids cuts in library hours but still might reduce its library book budget—already below the U.S. per-capita average

Update, May 7: The missing $56K for materials was restored in the final version of the budget last night. Kudos to all the library advocates who spoke up! See, it’s worth the time! – D.R.

allisonsilberbergNow it’s definite. Alexandria, VAhonored as Amazon’s “most well-read” city in the U.S. despite ample evidence to the contrary, especially among our many low-income people—won’t have to cut library hours.

Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg, a council and library board member, too, has emailed me: “Due to the Library Board’s incredible efforts to find other funds and adjust personnel, the library hours will not be cut, as originally proposed." Still open is the pesky issue of Alexandria’s per-capita spending on library materials (around $3.25) being under the national average (probably over $4 right now). Despite this, the draft city budget proposes a $56,000 cut in the budget for books and other content.

Ms. Silberberg sensibly asks why Alexandria would “have a $7 million library system and then decide not to fund $56,000 to maintain the book materials and collection. I have listed this item in my Add/Delete list for our city’s budget.” The $56K is around an eighth of the library budget itself. The total proposed 2014 budget for Alexandria is about $627 million, with the adoption vote scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6. Alexandrians can speak out here.

Significantly, Alexandria is a well-off city with a $102,435 median family income and its share of BMWs and million-dollar-plus houses despite the 14 percent of under-18 residents living in poverty. Imagine the poorer localities that could far less easily come up with the equivalent of the now-AWOL $56K.

Ideally, then, as an expert on both public policy and nonprofits, such as the ones written about in her book Visionaries in Our Midst, Ms. Silberberg will support LibraryCity.org’s proposal for a national digital library endowment (also discussed on The Atlantic’s site). It could be a nonprofit. But  the endowment would be most effective as a public agency making a better connection between the library world and wealthy philanthropists, who would enjoy well-publicized national recognition from the White House and Congress.

Not every city in the U.S. or its territories comes with a deep-pocketed givers like Bill Gates, and in the 2009 fiscal year, Guam spent just 16 cents on library content. Even Gates Foundation has not meaningfully funded libraries’ acquisitions of actual e-books. Yes, money could go for other purposes, such as the Web-era-related professional development of school librarians, besieged in so many cities (latest horror story from Philadelphia here). The endowment could even help the very poorest of our poor communities hire a few more school librarians than otherwise, as well as help address library-related digital divide issues.

Council member Justin Wilson has already endorsed the basic endowment idea, which is crafted to minimize conflicts with local fund-raising efforts such as those we have in Alexandria. As I see it, the Alexandria City Council could make its mark on national policy and draw positive attention in the media by way of a formal resolution urging the White House and Congress to create the endowment. If need be—I hope this changes, when Washington is no longer so austerity-fixated—the initial costs to the taxpayers could be next to nothing since funding would come from the private side.

Also of interest: Is your local library budget about to be slashed? Here’s an example of how you can fight back.

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