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Camden, N.J., saves its libraries

August 10, 2010 | 12:05 pm
Camdenlibrary

Last week, the library board in Camden, N.J. announced its intention to close all three library branches by the end of 2010, effectively shutting its entire system. Proposed cuts to the budget were so severe that the libraries would not even have been able to maintain a single branch; rather than leave books on shelves, waiting for a better financial day, the library board planned to auction, donate, store or destroy all its materials. Camden, one of the nation's poorest cities, is suffering a tremendous budget crisis.

On Monday, Mayor Dana Redd announced that the Camden library system had a lifeline: It will join the county system, pending approval by the City Council.

This will be a vital move for Camden residents, more than 150,000 of whom use the city libraries each year. Fewer than a third of residents have high-speed Internet in their homes. The Philadelphia Inquirer visited the library last week:

On Thursday at the main library in downtown Camden, Gabrielle Simmons, 21, applied for a job on the Internet while her 3-year-old son, Cameron, squirmed on her lap.

Simmons is an unemployed single mother who relies on the library to apply for jobs; many workplaces now only accept online applications. She was busy Thursday applying for a job at Old Navy in the Cherry Hill Mall.

Next to her sat Timothy Thomson, 32, who was laid off from Verizon last year. He comes to the library twice a week to check out self-help books and apply for jobs.

The plight of Camden's library may be extreme, but it is not unique. The New York Public Library managed to avoid extreme cuts, but libraries in Virginia have not been so lucky. Libraries in  Stamford, Conn., might be forced to close. And the Los Angeles Public Library has curtailed its hours because of budget cuts.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jan Anasa Fisher, a disabled veteran, reads at the Camden Library. Credit: Jessica Kourkounis / Associated Press

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