An open letter to Prescott

Dec 30, 16 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

2017-01-page-1-front-coverOver the last year or so, the Prescott City Council has considered adding fees to have a library card and to access the Prescott Public Library. Hours have been reduced – not significantly yet – but the decision to close on Sundays means an estimated 800-900 people don’t have access to the library at all. This may be the working mom who’s trying to take a class online or the student who needs the internet to complete a class project but whose family can’t afford home internet access, or someone looking for some respite by delving through the catalog of books.

When Prescott City Councilmembers began suggesting that the library was not a “need,” and that if you wanted to use the library that perhaps you should pay for it, I became disappointed and distressed. So, I had 10,000 postcards printed to be delivered to City Council as they began the process of creating next year’s budget.

This conversation was largely in part due to budget cuts and the city’s PSPRS (Public Safety Personnel Retirement System) liability. The city has two choices: increase revenue to pay down the debt or cut non-vital services. I feel the library is a vital city service.

The concept and program are simple. Simply pick up a card, write a personal message on it, and we’ll deliver your thoughts on the Prescott Public Library to the Prescott City Council.

I recall fondly spending many hours after school at our local public library. It was a safe haven of knowledge and experiences. I remember experiencing the different displays of local and national history that were rotated through our small community, and hearing presentations from authors and travelers who shared their experiences. I remember doing homework and learning how the Dewey Decimal System works.

Things have changed. But a vibrant Public Library is key to a vibrant community.

Since beginning the Postcard Project, I’ve heard more stories of people who truly depend on the services the library provides. It provides knowledge, a safe haven after school, a place to do homework, a place to gather with friends, and much more.

I’ve heard stories from kids who have to give up extracurricular activities on Saturdays in order to complete and submit their homework to teachers who require that the work be submitted electronically. Some folks literally have no access to the library since Sunday is the only day that they could’ve taken advantage of it.

This is truly disheartening, especially considering the original intent and recent history of the Prescott Public Library.

Andrew Carnegie began providing free public libraries throughout the country beginning in 1883. This philanthropic period included the original Prescott Public Library which was founded at the corner of Alarcon and Gurley streets. As our city grew, so did it, and for a host of other reasons it was moved to its current location at 215 E. Goodwin St.

Between 2003 and 2006, the Friends of the Prescott Public Library raised over $1.5 million dollars to expand, update, and renovate the current building. This incredible facility was a gift to the residents of Prescott and has been touted as “Prescott’s Living Room.” Last year, over 426,000 residents visited the library which resulted in over 700,000 items checked out! The lending of books offers an escape and education that many could not afford.

The City of Prescott maintains the facility and upkeep of the library and provides staffing. In addition, the city pays a fee to the County Library System, which allows residents to borrow books and other items from other libraries in the system.

Programs, upgrades such as new carpet, e-books, and other facility improvements were and are paid for by The Friends of the Library and don’t come out of taxpayer coffers.

Meeting rooms are also available for nonprofits and for-profit groups alike. Currently, there are two rooms which carry no use fees, but over the last year fees have been put in place for the remaining rooms. (Personally, I’m fine with that as long as there are always options for those who can’t afford the fees.)

In addition to traditional library services, the Prescott Public Library also provides internet and computer access to those who may otherwise not be able to afford them. Computers are used for job searches, homework, and countless other things. The library also hosts special events and programs both during and after hours. Over 10,000 children participated in some of these events over the past year.

Are you seeing the bigger picture yet?

If you want to get involved, packets of 25 cards are available at El Gato Azul. Please take them to book clubs, social events, or anywhere else you’ll run into familiar faces. Please turn in as many as you can by mid-January so they can be delivered to the city council. (Cards will continue to be collected and delivered until all 10,000 have been filled out.)

The goal isn’t to ask the Prescott City Council to increase funding for the Prescott Public Library.

The goal is to ask councilors to not further reduce library services and hours of operation; the goal is to let the city councilors know that there’s a need for a viable and vibrant library in our community; the goal is to ask city councilors to keep the library and all community projects at the forefront of their budget planning.

I firmly believe that prudent decisions, which are difficult to make, can create a situation whereas the Prescott you want and the Prescott we need can both exist.

— Barry

*****

For more information, check out Library Postcard Project on Facebook or stop by El Gato Azul, 316 W. Goodwin St., for a packet of cards to distribute to your friends. Cards are also available at Peregrine Book Co., 219 N. Cortez St., and Whole Foods, 1112 Iron Springs Road.

Barry Barbe is the owner of El Gato Azul.

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