I love libraries, always have, always will, and that’s why I hate to see them waste their declining budgets on frivolous expenses. I came across a recent case of some serious waste, fraud, and abuse in the Detroit public library system that I have to mention here because it’s so egregious.
We are all abundantly aware that we’re in a time of economic crisis, and I think most of us would agree that some amount of austerity measures are warranted. Detroit is in particularly dire straits — the city was never exactly an economic powerhouse, and its population has been in serious decline, falling 25% in the last decade, giving it the same population that it had in 1910. This of course has tremendous implications for the city’s tax base, which in turn funds the local library system. And that’s where we get to the heart of the story. Detroit is considering closing up to 18 of its 23 branches (!) and laying off 191 of 333 library workers. That sucks. Pretty draconian, actually, but with a population decline of 25%, you’d naturally expect that at least a quarter of the city’s branches would need to close. But then we find out that the library system has purchased twenty $1100 chairs (that’s $1100 each) as part of a $2.3 million renovation of one library wing. They’ve also spent $160,000 on food vending for various events — some for the public and some or employee meetings and the like. I’ve been a library patron all my life and can’t recall a library ever giving me free food. Why would they? This was probably not the right time for the 160 unionized library workers to get a 6% pay raise when other, non-unionized city workers faced across-the-board 10% pay cuts.
Libraries, live within your means, tighten your belts, and cut out the bad behavior, please, because taxpayers aren’t going to tolerate this kind of nonsense in the current environment.