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.