End Austerity, Save Our Library
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
The long lasting impacts that the coronavirus pandemic will have on communities across Northern Illinois will be forever felt. Our federal, state, and local governments’ inability to manage the pandemic has resulted in utter confusion, unfathomable destruction, and the deaths of almost 300,000 individuals. Outside of a few elected officials who have continued to fight for working class people, very little is being done by our government to provide much needed financial assistance to the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, and in many cases, their health insurance. At the same time, the financial elite have become almost a trillion dollars richer since the start of the pandemic (USA Today). This dichotomy is all too common in American life at the moment: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and governments turn to austerity measures to cut services that are vital for our communities. One needs to look no further than the state of Rockford’s public library to see this on display in our own city.
This fall, the Rockford Public Library’s mayoral appointed Board of Trustees voted to close two library branches in the city by the end of the year: The Rock River branch on 11th Street and the Rockton Centre branch on Rockton Avenue (RR Star). The board also announced that it would be laying off eight employees in addition to the two closures. The operations of those two branches would be replaced by “mobile libraries” that are being cited as a means of making library services more accessible. The board cites these decisions as a cost cutting move for the future, despite the long term negative impacts that these cutbacks will have on Rockford’s south and west side communities. At a time when people in the city of Rockford are hurting both economically and emotionally, now is not the time for austerity or cutbacks to vital services that serve, enlighten, and provide a sense of community during a time of such great despair for our country.
These two RPL branches predominantly serve lower income residents and people of color within the city of Rockford. Many of the people in these communities rely on these library branches for computer access, internet service to do research for school or look for jobs, childhood literacy programs, and even a safe haven to get out of difficult situations. We cannot put a dollar sign on the benefits that public libraries (and other public goods) have on the health and well-being of our communities. To resort to treating these public institutions as organizations that need to be profitable in order to survive relies on a cruel and antiquated capitalist ideology that puts money over the collective good. As local governments deal with losses of tax revenue due to the pandemic, essential public services that already exist on the thinnest of budgets will be the first things on the budget chopping block. Meanwhile, city councils across the country will most likely continue to disproportionately fund already bloated police departments despite concerns over the effectiveness of policing and its impact on communities of color. Rockford is no exception to this, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Instead of resorting to damaging cuts that diminish the health of some of Rockford’s most vulnerable residents, the RPL Board of Trustees must listen to library employees on the ground who serve these branches and understand the needs of the citizens who use them. RPL’s unionized staff has continued to provide solutions to the Board of Trustees that allow the branches to stay open and save jobs at a time when they are needed most. RPL staff has also suggested that the board apply for several different grants available to help public cultural institutions in need during the pandemic. If we are to rely on a structure of mayoral appointed board members to dictate the future of our public services, then we must hold them accountable and demand that they do everything in their power to fulfill their duties as representatives of the public interest.
The Northern Illinois chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America strongly opposes the Rockford Public Library Board of Trustees’ decision to close branches and lay off employees as a cost saving measure. We will be working closely with our members to voice opposition to these cuts, while continuing to fight to put power back into the hands of working class people in Northern Illinois.
Please join us in voicing your concerns on December 15th at 630 PM CST during a virtual community speakout organized by labor leaders in Rockford. Those interested in attending can RSVP to the event on Facebook by following this link. You can also join the Zoom call directly on 12/15 with this link.