The expected reopening of two Hartford branch libraries is actually the quiet after the storm.
After protesting, pestering, cajoling and shaming city and library leaders to open the Blue Hills and Mark Twain branches, community organizers — there's that term again — ultimately persuaded the state to bail out the city.
And while the $200,000 appropriated from the state House and Senate discretionary funds comes with no strings attached, there is this warning: Next time, clean up your own mess!
"I don't think either the mayor or the city council are aware of the resistance from my legislative colleagues from around the state, who say Hartford gets too much money," Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said Tuesday. He and state Rep. Kenneth Green, D-Hartford, were instrumental in getting both House Speaker James Amann and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams to commit to the funding. "My colleagues view sending money to Hartford as sending money into a black hole."
It's not exactly the most endearing rep for a chronically cash-strapped city. But it is an indictment when the capital of the richest state in the union can't keep its libraries open, particularly when that city has one of the biggest literacy problems in the country.
The reopening of the Mark Twain and Blue Hills branches comes with a price — reduced hours and services for all nine branches. Another budget battle looms next year.
Hartford is projecting a $44 million deficit — and the state's library lifeline is a one-time deal.
If Hartford and the library board don't come up with a strategy to make libraries a top priority, then we do this dance all over again next summer."I'm happy the state was able to find the money, happy the libraries are going to be open, but the fight is not over," said Terese Walker, a member of the Blue Hills Civic Association. "We need to set something in place with the budget and look at the long-term goal of keeping these libraries open. This can't be an ongoing thing. In Hartford, Connecticut, we're not going to have libraries that are shut down."
The city council, in a separate action, agreed to put up $50,000, with the potential of adding another $150,000 pending an audit of the library due next week.
Deciding to close libraries at a time when the city's school system is undergoing major restructuring and reforms was unfathomable.
What makes the closings so egregious is that Hartford desperately needs more after-school programs. The city, though, actually showed a commitment to the main library by investing $42 million in a major makeover to the Main Street building. But then, the library board, blaming budget cuts, undermined that action by cutting two busy neighborhood branches.
On any given day, the branches were bustling with young people and adults doing homework, searching for jobs or using the computers.
The false assumption about Hartford residents is that they're ambivalent about education. The reality is it's the policy decisions that create an atmosphere of apathy.
The branch closings could've been viewed as a scare tactic by the library board to call the city's bluff on an $870,000 budget cut. The city, however, didn't blink.
As the stare-down ensued, mostly young people suffered. Now that a band-aid has been applied, talks will begin about how to sustain the library.
The objective, however, should not be to simply keep the doors open.
The library must thrive.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at