Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Libraries or Jails?

That was the question put to voters in Lafourche Parish Louisiana last Saturday.  As reported by Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times, the ballot measure would have diverted library funding to a new jail.  The measure was put forth by Lindel Toups, Chair of the Lafourche Parish Council, who objects in particular to the Biblioteca Hispana, a Spanish-language section in one of the branch libraries.  Mr. Toups accused the library of "teaching Mexicans how to speak English."  Furthermore, he said, "'Them junkies and hippies and food stamps [recipients] and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps [on the Internet].  I see them do it.'" 

The specific proposal called for moving some property-tax revenue from the library in order to build a new detention facility.  Advocates of the proposal cited the need for a new jail, and said that diverting the money away from the library would allow the $25 million jail to be built without raising taxes.  Opponents pointed out that  the library system has already endured massive spending cuts and that some of the nine branches are in need of repair and renovation.  In addition, the library is not meeting state standards for staffing and acquisitions, and needs to devote more resources to both.  Finally, the library needs more funding to support the purchase of technology and to provide the digital resources that residents request.    

According to the statistics that Kellogg cites, Lafourche Parish is not a wealthy area.  The library is needed by those its serves and it is used.  "About 43% of [the Parish's] households do not have Internet access at home, while the library provides free Internet access with 186 computers.  More than half of  ...  residents, 53%, hold library cards, and in 2013, the library system has served more than 280,000 visitors."  The library launched a vigorous P.R. campaign, which was ultimately successful.  On Saturday, the voters rejected the measure by an eight-point margin (54-46 per cent), with 15.1 per cent of registered voters turning out. 

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

If this were not a real story, Marie, it would sound like a satire of some kind. That is outrageous! Thank you for the post!