Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Library Referendum - Fact and Fiction - Part One

I visited three libraries today. My first visit was Lakeview where I again confirmed approximately 900 linear feet of empty shelf space. The self check out machine, as often happens, did not work and I had to have a worker check me out manually using an obsolete inked date pad. Today, I mustered up nerve to look over a computer user’s shoulder who was scrolling through pictures of scantily dressed females. Two other computer users were assembling a jigsaw puzzle and another was researching how to get a Social Security Card. I checked books on the shelf and in just one instance, found 8 books all the same title and author, “Kite Runner”. The first check out date was May 2005 with 34 total manual checkouts or 2 checkouts per book per year. Why the need of 8 identical books?

My next visit at 4:00 P.M. to Lincoln Library I found one person using the computers and this person was looking at scantily dressed females.

Lincoln does not have self check out machines; the stamped dates shows the check out due date on the back cover of the book. I found what I have found each time I visit Lincoln, hundreds of books have never been checked out and very few bore a 2007 stamped date.

My next visit was the downtown library where I observed 4 young males scanning pictures of partially dressed and some totally nude women in embarrassing positions, One monitor picture that brought a laugh from one of the observers was of a nude woman lying on her back with her legs spread wide and her vagina spread open. Why are we taxpayers funding porn spewing computers?

The Downtown Library does not have self check out so the check out due date is stamped on manually. Many books had not been checked out in the past year. I did observe quite a few people sitting who were doing nothing or visiting and had the appearance of people described as homeless people.

Last week, I visited Harrison Library which is scheduled to be abandoned if the City Council approves the new Library Directors request for $35,000,000.00. Ed Szynaka, lives in an apartment in the Twin Towers so he is not a property tax payer. He arrived in Peoria about a year ago after stops in Pasadena, Ca. and Indianapolis, Ind. After the previous director claimed in 2001 before the City Council that the “Harrison Library was bursting at the seams”, the Council appropriated approximately $450,000.00 to remodel and furnish first one floor and then a second floor with an elevator. Now, new Director Mr. Szynaka says this library is “underutilized” and will be closed.

At Harrison, the 2nd floor has no books and four computers, three that haven’t worked for month and some chairs and tables. The library has hundreds of books that have never been checked out and almost no adult usage as it is open only 5 days a week, 10:00 P.M. till 5:00 P.M.

In 2000 and 2001, the previous library board considered closing both the downtown library and the McClure Branch. Now the new director wants $35 million of property tax payers money to close Harrison, add on to Lincoln which is also underutilized, and add on to Lakeview; the need at Lakeview being very questionable because several bays of underused or duplicated books could be removed to make more space for computers. In the 15 years of visiting Lakeview on a regular basis, I have never awaited in line a half of the time I have waited in a grocery store line where I PAY for my needs. If the self check out machines at Lakeview worked with consistency, few people would have to wait in line.

On August 17, 2001, the then Library Board President and Library Director stood before the City Council and asked for $6.9 million to purchase 7 acres of land and build a new Library out on North Allen Road. Now the new Director and Board is asking for $35 million to include a possible 30,000 square foot Library in an exsisting building on Pioneer Parkway.

To sum it up, the new Director with the backing of his board, claims that the Harrison newly remodeled library is underutilized, the lightly use Lincoln Library needs expanding, The Downtown needs a totao overall which includes the exsterior of the building, MClure needs more space, the Lakeview Library needs expanding and there needs to be 30,000 square feet of new books, computers and meeting rooms. All for JUST $35,000,000.00

Most residents north of Pioneer Parkway have one or two computers at home. Manual High School working with Workforce Network just installed 20 new computers open to the public 3-8 P.M. Common Place, Carver Center, Proctor Center, Workforce Network Downtown, Bradley University, social agencies, existing libraries and other locations have free computer usage and many companies are looking to give computers away.

The Director claims the need for more meeting space. Why should we taxpayers pay for space used by say, the Chess Club and the ACLU? There is underutilized free meeting space starting at Harrison Library and even the Peoria Court House. Schools rooms all over the city are usually vacant from approximately 2:30 P.M. – 7:30 A.M.Many churches have meeting rooms. The Park District plans on adding more meeting rooms when they move into the vgacataed Lakeview Museum after the $60 million plus, and growing, Peoria River museum is built.

As a frequent library user and ex-teacher, I know the value of libraries. But I also know that $35,000,000.00 expenditure is not in the best interest of property tax payers who live in the Peoria Library Distinct. Peoria Public School District #150 has plans for at least $60,000,000.00 in new schools in the near future. Each school will have its own underutilized library as most all school libraries are underutilized now.

While the referendum is supposed to be non binding, I fear that too many of us are buying into the “everybody likes libraries” stampede. Shame on you if you don't support libraries.

Keep raising property taxes and many of our library users will be moving out of town and come back and use the services we are paying for.

This part one of the existing state of our Public Libraries and why the Library Board and its new Director have gone from a request for $6.9 million in 2001 to $35 million while our city is shrinking but costs to service this community are rapidly expanding.

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