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Library advocates host “read-in” to stop budget cuts

on June 21, 2011

Oakland library lovers braved the sun and heat in an uninterrupted 14-hour “read-in” on City Hall’s front steps on Monday. It’s the latest tactic library advocates are using to protest the potential closure of 14 of the city’s 18 libraries.

In continuous 15 minute slots from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., people took turns reading books from a podium in front of City Hall. “Save Oakland Libraries” signs and posters with photos of the threatened branches hung in the background. People passed by throughout the day. Some stayed to sit and listen from the Frank Ogawa Plaza amphitheater’s seats.

On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council will consider a plan that could help close the city’s $56 million budget deficit. If an “all-cuts” budget plan is recommended, then the library budget would be slashed by 85 percent, leaving only four libraries open for 400,000 Oakland residents.

“We’re scared,” Shannon McKellar, an Elmhurst library branch manager, said at Monday’s read-in. “There’s been a lot of uncertainty, and now it all comes down to tomorrow.”

“We’re trying to show the face of each library that could be on the chopping block,” said Ted McCoy, a library assistant at the Piedmont and main branches, as he indicated the posters showing each branch library. “We want us to spend each of these 14 hours drawing attention to each of the 14 branches the city could lose.”

Save Oakland Libraries, an advocacy group of librarians and their supporters, has employed a number of tactics for bringing awareness to the potentially drastic library budget cuts. In the last couple of months, they’ve organized zombie walks to promote the message that “libraries keep Oakland brains juicy and delicious,” surprise story-hours in public places, and now, a 14 hour read-in at City Hall’s front door.

McCoy said the idea came from successful 24-hour read-ins library advocates in New York City’s Queens neighborhood pulled off last year when their libraries faced deep cuts.

Oakland library supporters decided to try it at home. McCoy advertised Monday’s read-in through Facebook and email groups, asking for volunteers to help read throughout the day. Among those who responded were a handful of local celebrities like novelist Charles Haas, author of The Enthusiast, and children’s book author Jennifer Vetter, who wrote Down by the Station.

“We’ve been really touched by how much people have reached out,” McCoy said, mentioning that Haas and Vetter contacted him to volunteer within 15 minutes of his announcement of Monday’s read-in event.

“We’re excited about the breadth and diversity that our writers represent,” he said. “That’s something our libraries, with a range of resources, represent.”

Tuesday’s City Council meeting will also reveal which other public programs — possibly including parks and recreation and arts and cultural funding — will be affected by budget cuts. McCoy said he plans to be there along with a large presence of library supporters.

“As long as people continue to voice their support for the libraries,” he said, “nothing will be final until the ink is dry.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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