Books, Doctors and Mayor Sanders

by on April 26, 2011 · 3 comments

in Economy, Education, San Diego

By Lowell Waxman

In a recent New York Times story, Rx: Read to Your Baby we are reminded that “[i]ncreasingly, research has supported the idea that children should be exposed to a language-rich environment as soon as they are born because it can significantly improve cognitive and language development and readiness for school.

Remarkably, we also learn that some pediatricians in New York City are now writing prescriptions for books for parents to read to their babies “because … pediatricians know that one of the most important things they can do to impact the long-term health of their patients is to make sure their patients are literate.”

Disregarding the short and long-term consequences to the City, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sander’s new two-year budget proposal decimates public library service with drastic cutbacks to public open hours and staff reductions that will seriously reduce the availability of professional librarians who will be banished to the unemployment lines in another blow to our local economy.

The proposed cut represents a devastating 70% drop in public service hours from their zenith in 2003 when many libraries such as Linda Vista were open 61 hrs/ week to Sander’s proposal to reduce all branch library hours to 18.5 hrs/week come this July. From seven days we will go to 2.5 mystery days of service.

There is no substitute for the vast children’s literature resources and expertise of our public library. No bookstore compares. No hospital compares. No police station or firehouse collection compares. The impact on family literacy is a disgrace when the need is enormous and well documented.

Is this what we are coming to – you need a prescription for books at the hospital which is open instead of a library card for use at the local public library which is closed? It’s a good thing universal health insurance guarantees access to doctors to get those book prescriptions. Oh, my bad.

We are losing access to our public spaces and places on a permanent basis going forward if slashing is the only side of government budgeting under discussion. We lose our sense of community in a shared civil society without libraries and parks.

The structural budget deficit must be addressed. A fair trash collection fee would have saved the libraries and parks but elected city leadership lacks the political will to do what is necessary to sustain a decent quality of life for San Diegans.

You don’t need to be a pediatrician to know that the Mayor’s budget proposal is counter productive to the long-term physical, intellectual and economic well being of our community.

Until the Mayor prescribes budgetary remedies that give necessary sustenance proportionally to all the vital City organs with an infusion of the lifeblood of civic society, fair taxes and fees, his painfully misguided use of the scalpel will deform the lean, starving body trying valiantly to serve the common good.

Maybe this death by a thousand cuts is the unsubtle prelude to amputation (privatization) where we will be told it is the last resort to save the remaining body. Maybe that is the end game of the drama.

Maybe the healthy diagnosis is that this is the Mayor’s self-cutter cry for help and it is time for a political intervention for the City to save itself before further irreparable damage has been done.

What say you City Council? Will you respond more responsibly and creatively than the Mayor in determining a final budget that does not decimate library and park service.

What say you San Diego?

Lowell Waxman is a retired librarian who resides in San Diego.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar annagrace April 26, 2011 at 10:18 am

Well said, Lowell. I spoke to police Chief Lansdowne after last weeks budget hearing and I asked him what he thought about the cuts to libraries and parks and rec. He said that it would increase the need for police services. He is also quite aware that the single most common factor among incarcerated people is the lack of literacy skills. And he is the first to admit that cops do not provide literacy services.

I am glad you raised the issue that we are losing our public spaces and the collective will to address the needs of citizens. Raising revenue must be as much a part of the discussion as cutting services. Unfortunately, I see few scalpels- only axes.

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avatar Shelley Plumb April 26, 2011 at 11:54 am

Great article, Lowell. I say we stop treating our branch libraries like an inconsequential entity and elevate their status to a core city service that deserves NO CUTS IN STAFF OR HOURS …. ever!! We need to put them in Al Gore’s lock box in perpetuity. I tried to forward your article to mayor and city council, but I couldn’t get forwarding mechanism to work. Perhaps someone with better techno skills could do that. Again, thanks.

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avatar Charlie Goldberg April 26, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Fantastic piece Lowell. Thank you. This is the kind of message we must deliver to the City Council in as many ways as we can, including at the May 5th hearing of the Library’s budget (10:30 a.m. in Council Chambers at 202 C Street). I hope library supporters will pack the chambers that day and make it clear that for the reasons you noted, these proposed cuts are unacceptable.

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