Libraries and Tight Times

a speech by Paulette Dickerson


Up until recently we here in Montgomery County have been quite lucky. We have wonderful libraries, parks, schools and services. Until just this year, we could afford to plan expansion of services, and to direct or encourage new construction. We could afford to remodel buildings that were serviceable still, but out of date. We could be state-of-the-art.

Now we are all tightening our belts and we should seriously consider what we can afford to do and what we can afford to do without.

I came here tonight because I feel very strongly that you should make some of your choices based on what ordinary county residents might want. The raison d'etre for all government agencies is to provide services that private citizens cannot easily provide for themselves --- like the police and fire departments.

It doesn't make any sense to cut services and maintain most or all of the bureaucracy that is administering them, as some of the budget proposals I have been reading about seem to do. I think there is a great temptation on the part of those who head bureaucracies to assume that all departments under their control should share equally the risk of being cut back, laid off or furloughed. That is not so. Staff cuts should fall first and hardest on administrative positions that do not directly affect services and which are isolated from the public, and on support staff for those administrative positions. Patrolmen and dispatchers should be the last to be cut from the police department. Rescue and firefighting equipment should always be well maintained. Libraries should have longer hours in times when the average citizen is financially strapped. Or perhaps the hours of operation should be adjusted so that more working-class people can use them. After all, "Libraries will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no libraries."

It takes a very long time to train science teachers, math teachers, art teachers. It takes a very long time to put together a staff that can earn the kinds of awards for excellence that Richard Montgomery High School has. Things that are treasures, like the staff at Richard Montgomery, like the Noyes Children's Library and its staff, like the naturalists at the Nature Centers, should be preserved through good times and bad simply because they serve all county residents directly and they enrich our lives far more than the bottom line on a budget proposal could possibly suggest.

We may be moving into an era of economic hardship that will last a long time. Even if it is temporary it is still wise to reevaluate our priorities. We don't need administrative assistants along with their secretaries and receptionists if the services that they oversee must be cut to maintain their salaries.

Schools exist to serve students. Libraries exist to serve readers. Police and fire departments exist to protect and serve the community. Parks and playgrounds exist to serve us all.

What the ordinary people of this county need at this time is a minimum disruption of the services that we've come to expect.

Thank you.

This speech was written by Paulette Dickerson and given by her to the Montgomery Council, in Rockville, Maryland on 1 April 1991.

Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
Private Citizen / Library Advocate

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E-Mail: "pdickerson (at)"
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