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A Pathetic, Uncaring Decision

Stan Simpson

July 02, 2008

A day after hundreds affirmed in Bushnell Park that Hartford really does care and has a compassionate pulse, Jose Rodriguez, in halting English, spoke poignantly about the cruel decision to close the Mark Twain branch library.

"A lot of kids come here from the school to use the computer," said Rodriguez, 23, a South Marshall resident with a 2-year-old daughter. "Nobody got computer in the house."

The Hartford Public Library's decision to shutter both the Twain and Blue Hills branches on Thursday to close a budget gap of about $870,000 was a devastating decision. It devalued the people in these neighborhoods and the vital role the branches play in their communities.

The library board blames the city for the cuts. The mayor says the library had other options, including the ability to tap a $14 million endowment. Meanwhile, once again, it's Hartford's youth that suffer.

We talk about taking them off the streets and putting them in safe venues that promote literacy, leadership and respect. But at the first sign of cash flow problems, the kids become expendable.

It's pathetic and, yes, uncaring.

Lakur Lockhart, 10, will be a fifth-grader at West Middle School. He comes to the Twain branch regularly and loves the computer. His message to city leaders: "Try to get money to save the library because all the kids that come here don't have nothing to do at home."

At the library the kids do their homework, work on the computer and read books, for crying out loud. Adults come to look for jobs online, read the newspaper, or check out books or DVDs.

The folks who make decisions affecting young people actually do care about kids. It's their policy decisions that at times scream "I don't give a damn."

Hartford, which has one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country, should not be in the business of closing libraries.

"It shows this is not a priority for the city," said Leroy Gardner, 44, an ex-offender who was searching for jobs online at the Twain branch Tuesday. "Look who uses this. Look at the constituency. Look at the demographics. Who's going to be hurt by this library closing?"

Mostly poor black and Latino youths the ones everyone is trying to keep off the streets.

"It breaks my heart to see a library close when we're trying to help kids and send them the message to stay in school, read a book, get off the streets or do something healthy," said Val Bryan, who lives in the West End. "We're sending mixed messages."

Agreed. There's got to be a way to reduce hours across the board, keep all nine branches open and not compromise an $8.2 million budget.

The Asylum Hill and Blue Hills communities deserve better.

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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