July 15, 2010
Newark community is up in arms about local library closures due to city budget cuts
Published: Thursday, July 15, 2010, 8:00 AM
NEWARK — Rachael Baldwin and Michael Allen don’t know each other. They live in opposite ends of Newark, but when it comes to their local branch library, they see the world exactly the same.
It’s a place of refuge when times are tough, a place to relax and be free, and, yes, a place to learn. It’s family.
When Baldwin lost her job, she found employment through the First Avenue Branch in the North Ward. She was able to use its computers to update her resume, send out faxes, even relied on the staff to get her daughter there safely after school. Allen, a poet, found he could get wonderfully lost just writing and reading at the Madison Branch in the South Ward. He spends so much time there, his wife has to pull him away before it closes.
The two say they are almost traumatized by the news city budget cuts will force the branches to close next month.
"It’s like making me homeless," Allen said. "I have to come to this place. This is where I go to get lost. Even if it’s for 10 minutes."
Library Director Wilma Grey doesn’t want to fracture the bond residents have with their branches. She knows the First Avenue library is always packed with kids, even now with the summer reading program under way. And just the other day, with the air conditioner straining against the humidity, the Madison Branch library had people busy reading and a stream of parents taking out books for their children.
The branches are small, taking up tiny store front-like spaces, but both have been in the community for more than 20 years. Residents, many who have signed petitions against the closure, are distraught the libraries will not be there to help kids with homework, reading and the many other services like English as a Second Language for immigrants.
Grey, however, had to make the tough call last month when she learned the library would lose about $2.45 million in city funding. As part of a plan to save money, Grey said closing the First Avenue and Madison branches had to happened because they operate in rented spaces. In addition to their demise, the library is looking at other cuts that deprive residents. There will be a salary freeze, 31 layoffs and furloughs forcing the library to close all of its facilities two days a week through December.
"If there are any available funds, I hope they (the city) find a way to channel those funds to the library, because it’s so important to so many people," Grey said.
In many corners of the city, library branches are just steps away for kids who want to do more than just read and get help with assignments. They get to do arts and crafts, compete in chess tournaments, anything Juanita Egoavil can come up with as the branch manager at the First Avenue Branch.
She said many of her kids can’t afford summer camp, a trip to a book store or the main library downtown. In her own way, Egoavil has made the library a second home for the community, a place for them to get away. Out of her own pocket, she has spent money to give it a cheery touch with posters, pictures and stuffed animals that sit on book shelves.
"I just tried to make it a happy place,’’ she said.
For 12-year-old Mahishan Gnanaseharan, it’s been paradise since the first grade.
"When I first saw that library, my heart skipped a beat,’’ he said.
Mahishan, born in Sri Lanka, became excited because he knew the library could help him when he didn’t know much English. The more he came to the library, education clicked and he blossomed into an voracious reader who can’t get enough fiction. His father, Selliah, said Mahishan loves reading so much that he’ll pass up a movie, maybe even a game to devour a novel. At night, when he’s supposed to be asleep, his parents find him huddled underneath the sheets reading a book in the dark with a light pen.
If he’s not busy, Mahishan says he can inhale a 300-page book in less than a day, having read the Harry Potter series in a month as a second-grader. At First Avenue, staffers said he reads about 400 books a year, an accomplishment honored two years ago when he was asked to be a speaker at the main library’s annual gala. At the event he talked about how his branch library helped him to read, how it was his source of inspiration.
When he learned it would close, he called it a crime against humanity.
"A lot of people depend on the library,’’ said Mahishan, and he knows from personal experience. He needs several hundred more books to quench his thirst to read.
Where will they come from now?
Posted by tumulty at July 15, 2010 9:29 AM
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