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Despite last-minute outcry, 4 Detroit libraries to close this week

Yuba College Public Space

Four branches of the Detroit Public Library system will close this week, despite a last-minute push to keep them open.

Supporters of the four branches packed the Detroit Library Commission meeting Tuesday.

The Commission actually voted to close the libraries last month. But library advocates were hoping Commissioners would issue them a temporary reprieve, so they could try and raise money to keep the branches open.

But Commissioners refused to move the issue, meaning the branches will close as scheduled on December 22.

That’s a huge blow to people like Davina Brooks, who often takes her eight children to the Monteith branch library on the city’s east side.

"They’re interested in learning. We’re interested in learning. And if they turn their backs on us, it's dismal," Brooks said, fighting off tears.

Brooks says the library is the last symbol of hope in a decimated community. "The grocery stores have closed, the schools have closed…where are [the kids] gonna go?”

The system has seen property tax revenues and other funding sources dry up in recent years. And they expect that trend will only continue.

Library Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch says the ideas presented at the meeting--for the board to hold off while library supporters found private and non-profit partners to help keep them open--were well-intentioned, but came too late.

“We cannot operate based upon maybes right now," Kinloch said. "The city of Detroit, and particularly the library's finances, are flying off a cliff. So we have to make sound business decisions to adjust to the declining revenue.”

Kinloch says even if the financial situation weren't so dire, the system would likely have to shrink anyway because staff are stretched too thin.

But some library advocates suggest the system has a questionable history of managing or even understanding its funds, and spent too much money on a recent renovation of the system’s main branch.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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