Acknowledging the clamor over closing two branch libraries in July, Hartford's city council took a reasonable step last week to reverse course. It's only a half-step, though.
The Mark Twain and Blue Hills Avenue branches will reopen by Aug. 25, the first day of school in the city. The council voted to appropriate $200,000 to unlock their doors, apparently intending to pay for the reopenings by trimming hours further at all nine branches and closing neighborhood branches on Saturdays.
Neither alternative — closing two branches or curtailing services at all branches — is good for the city. But the latter course is at least more equitable. The ideal, of course, is to have the main and branch libraries open at least six days a week.
Hartford's library system can make a big difference in fighting illiteracy and creating a love of reading in youngsters. But in recent years its budget hasn't kept pace. Although the council thinks it can find the $200,000 to pay for reopening the two closed branches, the real operating budget gap for this fiscal year is close to $900,000.
The city's auditor is going over the library budget line by line to see if any savings are possible and is expected to issue a report next month.
Libraries should have high priority. The city may be strapped, but officials will hurt Hartford in the long run if they put one of its most civilizing influences on starvation wages.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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