Chants of “Save our library,” and “No Mayor Nutter” could be heard from the sidewalk in front of the David Cohen Ogontz Library on Ogontz Avenue in Philadelphia, with the occasional car horn sounding its support. Community members of every age gathered outside libraries, holding signs and banners with words like, “We need our libraries.” This was one of seven library rallies held in the city of Philadelphia on Nov. 22.
Due to recent budget cuts by the city of Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has announced that 11 city libraries will be shut down in order to cut back on funding. According to an information sheet distributed at the Ogontz Library rally, “The city is not only closing library branches but will also cut the budget for new books and shorten the hours of the remaining libraries.”
Various attendees of the rally that took place at David Cohen Ogontz Library took turns speaking into a megaphone. Someone mentioned the mayor’s claim that if a library is within a two-mile radius of another library, it can be shut down. “Two miles is too long for our kids to walk,” a community member said into the megaphone, describing the dangers of children walking significant distances in the city.
A local elementary school principal reinforced the importance of libraries to the education of children: “We need to keep the libraries open,” the principal said. “We need to do whatever it takes.”
Without a local library, many students do not have access to books, computers, the Internet or a proper environment to study. “We pay taxes,” a reverend said into the megaphone. “There is no reason that this library should be closed.”
A few hours later, a rally at Charles L. Durham Free Library on Haverford Avenue began. The main speaker at this rally urged everyone to contact City Council to let them know the value of this community and its library. “The purpose of the government is to serve us,” said a man by the name of Reverend Samuels who was given the microphone. “There are some perks that they need to go back to and say, ‘We can get our own cars.’ Those are funds that can be used to save this library.”
Some students from Montessori Genesis II read letters that they wrote to the mayor. “I go to the library every Thursday with my class, and we learn so much from Mr. Ed,” said a student named Taylor, mentioning the influence that one of the librarians has had on her and her classmates.
The main speaker returned to the microphone, emphasizing the importance of taking this matter to the councilmen. “We are not out here to feel good,” he said. “We are out here for a purpose.”
Four students from Eastern attended several of these rallies, including a collective library rally held at Central Library on Dec. 6.
Wanting to make a stand for the nearby communities, senior Cara May Neuenschwander, senior Carrie Stine and sophomore Jennifer Elmer organized a temporary location in Walton where students could write letters to Mayor Nutter opposing the library closings. A total of 103 letters from Eastern students were mailed to the mayor. “I was motivated to do it because I’m going to be teaching in an urban setting, and the kids don’t have libraries,” Neuenschwander said.
Sophomore Jaleesa McCrea wanted to attend the rallies with the others because she grew up, and still lives, in West Philadelphia. “I go to the protests because I went to these libraries when I was younger, and I know first-hand the impact these libraries have on the community,” McCrea said. “If these libraries weren’t open, I wouldn’t know where the young students would go because after school they flood the libraries.”