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Hartford Protesters Furious Over Closing Of Mark Twain Branch Library

By VANESSA DE LA TORRE | Courant Staff Writer

July 02, 2008

Destiny Asberry walked up to the Mark Twain library branch on Farmington Avenue Tuesday, eyeing signs that read "Keep Our Library OPEN" and "Mark Twain would not approve!!" The 19-year-old works at the Taco Bell across the street and saw protesters, but figured they were clamoring about the fate of a nearby business.

"Not the library!" Asberry said.

She lives around the corner, attends Hartford Public High School and uses the library branch to study and pick out random books to read. "I didn't think they would do that to the kids. ... Because the kids, they need this here. This was the encouragement for the kids in this community to read books."

About 25 people, some from the Laurel Corner Neighborhood Association, gathered at the Mark Twain branch in Asylum Hill for a planned "read-in" Tuesday evening. But the demonstration was made more somber with news earlier in the day that Mark Twain and a second library branch in the Blue Hills neighborhood, near the Bloomfield town line, will officially shut down at 5 p.m. Thursday. The Hartford Public Library also announced that it has cut 19 jobs and plans to eliminate 21 student assistant positions at the end of August.

As recently as Monday, the union that represents library workers, AFSCME Local 1716, suspected that the proposed branch closings and layoffs were a bluff. When the library board of directors revealed the plan late last week, citing a $870,000 shortfall in the library's 2008-09 budget, Mayor Eddie A. Perez pressed them to find a solution to avoid "the drastic step" of closing two of nine neighborhood branches. Among the suggestions were dipping into a $14 million unrestricted endowment and reducing library hours throughout the city.

David Ionno, the union's vice president, said Tuesday that chief Librarian Louise Blalock had asked the union in mid-June to consider making changes to its current contract that expires in 2009 to free up some funds.

"We had very little time to get on this," Ionno said. On Monday, union members will vote on concessions.

"We are interested in working with the library and the city, and if that means we have to delay and put off some things, we will," Ionno said. "We don't want people to get laid off, we don't want people to lose their jobs, but mostly, we don't want library branches to close and to leave people in the neighborhood without a place to go."

In a statement Tuesday, library spokeswoman Catherine D'Italia said the jobs that were cut include two full-time positions at the Greater Hartford Literacy Council. Closing the Mark Twain and Blue Hill branches which are leased, storefront spaces is expected to save the library more than $530,000 in employee costs and rent, according to library board President Geraldine Sullivan.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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