Troy, Michigan, is closing its public library. Yes, really.

…because Troy has a 100% literacy rate, no poverty, no one without a computer, and everyone has infinite money to go on Amazon. Right? 

Jeff Wattrick has the story and commentary here: Troy Library will close April 30, or Troy is your new Highland Park.

As a future librarian, I of course have to be painfully literal and point out that Highland Park, despite the many serious problems it faces, is at least trying to reopen its library. They see the mistake that they made. Troy apparently doesn’t want to learn from it.

It appears that eliminating the library will cut $1.7 million from Troy’s budget. But how much does Troy “save” by discarding millions of dollars worth of books, equipment, and human work accumulated over the years, hm?

Does anybody know what is going to happen to the books? Are they going to other area libraries, or will they just be abandoned in place like those of the East St. Louis Public Library (photo), DPL’s Mark Twain Branch, and countless DPS libraries and facilities? I know, we metro Detroiters have seen images of abandoned books before. I know Troy is not Detroit, but images of abandoned books are relevant here in that the longer the library is closed, the harder and more expensive it will be for Troy to have a library again. Right now, Troy, your city has a viable library that only needs $1.7 million to stay open. How many years of having the library closed will it take for that number to double? For it to multiply tenfold? Disseminate the books and you might never feasibly be able to afford a library again. 

Is there no option on the table to operate at reduced hours? I ask this, but a quote in Wattrick’s article notes that Troy Councilman Martin Howrylak found $1.7 million of “unusued expenditures” in the budget that could be used to fund the library, but Mayor Louise Schilling and other members of the City Council turned down a resolution to discuss it. Money is tight, to be sure, but it does not sound like money is the only issue here. (This article hints at more political squabbling.)

I almost hate to put the idea out there, but the government of Troy could have a yard sale and get rid of the books for pennies on the dollar, making sure this is as fiscally wasteful as possible. The community’s literacy will be stunted for years across the age and income spectrum, people without ‘net access will have no place to seriously job search, kids whose parents aren’t tuned in to reading and schoolwork won’t have that important extra source of help and mentoring, AND they’ll do away with one of the last indoor public spaces a lot of communities have…. But they could narrow this year’s budget gap by like ten whole dollars! For three years!

Countless studies a show that a dollar invested in a public library comes back to the community manyfold. Here are just a few:

$1 Invested Yields $5 Return
Fort Morgan Library returns $8.80 for every $1 spent, according to study
And a big academic round-up: Economic Impact of Public Libraries

Across the country, libraries find that in times of recession, library usage increases:
2010 State of America’s Libraries
Library usage will go up during a recession

Anecdotally, too, I have heard colleagues working in libraries across the country speak of being busier and of watching the numbers of new library card applications increase as the economy has struggled in the last few years. This begs the question: If Troy is really hurting fiscally, doesn’t that mean it needs its library? A community in Southeast Michigan, of all places, should not scoff at the last place that many people are able to access employment resources.

Of course, Mayor Schilling and certain Councilmembers are not the only ones who voted against the library. A November 2010 vote on a tax increase to keep the library open was voted down

Does a rising tide not lift all boats in largely affluent Troy? I’m sure there are those in the community who are content to buy or pirate books and media, and to keep it for themselves in their private households, public good be damned. And yes, there is Google, but arguments about information quality and the value of information specialists aside, not everyone has Internet access at home. Your neighbor who now can’t use the library to find a job just might end up getting foreclosed upon, and that empty house is gonna be awesome for your property values. More teens will be without a safe non-home hangout and homework help, and more seniors will be stuck at home more of the time. Want to read or watch some really obscure title you can’t find on the Internet or to do some serious research? Too bad, Interlibrary Loan and newspaper databases are out of the question now.

The people this will hurt the most are those without computers at their jobs and without institutional (i.e. school) access to information–yep, nice ‘n classist. According to this article, Troy residents who want library access will have to buy a card from a nearby community, the cost of which starts at $75. Not everyone can afford to do that. This is a big step towards greater information access inequality in the area.

I don’t think Troy is going to collapse tomorrow just because they’re closing the library, but I do think this measure is pennywise and pound foolish.

The good librarian side of me is sad for the residents of Troy and frightened that this is even being considered somewhere in my region. But let’s be honest, my bad librarian side is gettin’ parochial: You wanna close your library, Troy? Go ahead–at least that’s one thing we still have in Detroit.

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just all part of the class war, it would seem. Rich v everyone else. Too bad there is no Andrew Carnegie to help out. I mean, there aren’t that many super-Billionaires in this country, right? I suppose in trying economic times, we must all sacrifice so that the wealthy needn’t suffer. I mean, really, will no one think of the wealthy?

  2. Hello,

    I want to answer some questions that were posed by your blog post.

    Regarding the Troy Public Library’s collection, it will be protected and stored in the Library for the immediate future. For more answers to some frequently asked questions about the closing, please go here.

    The Library did reduce hours, from 65 hours to 55 hours, in July 2010 due to budget cuts after a failed millage vote in February 2010. In order to receive state aid, the Library can’t be open for less than 55 hours. For more information about this, see our frequently asked questions page here.

    Thank you for your concern about the Troy Public Library.


    John Robertson
    Head, Technology Department
    Troy Public Library

    • Thank you very much for sharing that information.

      If the Troy Public Library does not end up getting saved somehow, I hope you and your colleagues are able to find rewarding employment quickly. Good luck to all of you.

  3. Maybe the library employees could run for city council being that the people their now are sure to lose their seats for not following the will of the people.

    • I have more confidence in the ability of librarians to seek, understand, and act upon information relevant to policymaking than I do in politicians who think that cutting a library is a decision without negative fiscal consequences.

  4. Detroit has a library, but Troy can’t?? What a JOKE!! Impeach Schilling and her followers. What an embarrassment to the city with their Selfish & Wasteful ways noted:

    Councilman Howrylak is the only intelligent person who is focused and brings solutions. If he was Mayor the library would not be in jepordy & the city as a whole would be better off.
    Does anybody know of an impeachmnet petition going around?

  5. Vote to close the Troy public library Aug 2. If we’re successful, the book burning party will be Aug 5.

  6. wow this is the best i’ve read in a long time.

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