Thursday, July 18, 2002

Investment plan

Adding library to portfolio

        Money doesn't grow on trees. Actually, if you are trying to save some to send your kids to college or put yourself in a nice retirement home, you probably are noticing that it doesn't grow anywhere.

        And everything has been more expensive than we thought it would be.

        We spent $314 million to build a new highway around the city that is perilous and, so far, pointless. We are investing more than a billion dollars on the riverfront, primarily for the business of athletics. We use public money — about $6 million per year — to improve the fortunes of a well-endowed ranch for exotic animals.

        And we are closing five libraries.

Gathering places

        These places dispense more than books. Free and open to the public, libraries often serve as unofficial day care and senior centers and as access to the information highway. The closures will save $1.5 million, about the cost of an exit ramp on Fort Washington Way or an NFL signing bonus.

        On Sept. 1, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials will close branches in Bond Hill, Deer Park, Elmwood Place, Greenhills and Mount Healthy.

        They are doing so, they say, to protect the quality of services. Which are indisputably high-quality and remarkably varied. It's not just books anymore. It's books, tapes, CDs and videos — 773,201 of these last year at the five branches that are to close. This is not counting people who have come there to read magazines and periodicals and those who have made use of computers and Internet access.

        At least one of the remaining 36 locations is near each of the doomed facilities. It's just 1.6 miles, for instance, from the Bond Hill library to the one in Roselawn — about six minutes by car. But not everybody has a car.

        Bus service is pretty good from Bond Hill to Roselawn, from Greenhills to Forest Park and Mount Healthy to College Hill. It gets more complicated to get to the nearest branches from Elmwood Place and Deer Park. A walk and a transfer in some cases. Route information is available from Metro at 621-4455.

        When Beulah Weppler, 88, first learned of the closing of the Deer Park branch, she pronounced herself “heartsick.” Now that she's had a chance to think about it, she's mad as a hornet. “They find money for everything else,” she fumed. “This is a very busy library. Lots of old people and lots of children.”

        Officials entrusted with this great institution — the fifth largest in the nation — made some tough choices after losing $4.3 million in state funding. I guess they had to prioritize.

        I wonder what our kids will think of this generation's priorities when they review decisions we have made. Surely they'll find it curious that so many of us were bilked by mendacious corporate executives. No doubt they'll be further baffled by our love affair with declining sports franchises. I wonder what they'll think of our decision to bet on the lottery for school funding.

        I wonder if they will think books and schools would have been safer investments, and that we should have bet on our children.

        E-mail Laura at .



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