From Gambit New Orleans:
Last week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, flanked by city officials and Charles Brown, city librarian and executive director of the New Orleans Public Library, reopened the Algiers Regional Library, which had been closed since Hurricane Katrina. It was the fifth library opened by the city in the last four months, the others being in Broadmoor, eastern New Orleans, Lakeview and Gentilly. A Treme branch is set to open in the next two to three years.
[In 1986] New Orleanians imposed a property tax millage dedicated to city libraries. That millage now generates almost $7.8 million a year. While voters shot down other proposed taxes that year, the library millage passed with 75 percent of the vote. At the time, pollster Ed Renwick told the Associated Press, “In all of my polls, it had overwhelming support. …I think the prevailing opinion was along the line of ‘How in a civilized society could we close our libraries?’”
A good question, one that is as relevant today as it was in 1986 — because that’s what’s likely to happen in some of Louisiana’s poorest parishes, thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal. The governor submitted a proposed budget for the current fiscal year that cut nearly $900,000 in library funds, almost all of them from rural parishes. As a result, parishes with low business and property tax bases likely will have their libraries gutted. A recent article in Library Journal quoted Amanda Taylor, director of the Concordia Parish Library, describing the problem: “There’s no longer a food stamp office; there’s no longer a Social Security office. In our rural parish, a lot of our people have low literacy skills and very few computer skills. They come to the library because all of that has to be done online.”
Jindal is fond of trumpeting his approach to education reform in Louisiana. Cutting library budgets in the state’s poorest parishes shows that his real commitment is to his own political image. A $900,000 appropriation for rural libraries is a fraction of the state’s $25.6 billion budget — and less than one-seventh of what Orleans voters pay for their own city library system. Though it may be a fraction of the state budget, the loss to small parishes is disproportionate and traumatic.
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