THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Updated: January 23, 2012 2:09AM
About 47 years ago, the Gary Public Library opened its new $2.2 million two-story limestone main branch near the heart of a bustling downtown, near 5th Avenue and Broadway.
It reigned as a sign of pride and progress in a city dependent on the fortunes of steel.
The city was booming back then. Its population of 178,320 in 1960 remains its all-time high and it ranked as the largest city in Northwest Indiana for decades. The population slide began later in the ’60s and has been spiraling downward ever since.
Today, the city stands at a 2010 population of 80,294, a 55 percent drop from 1960.
The population exodus, property tax caps and spotty tax collections have left their marks on all the city’s public agencies, from city and school governments to its library system.
Last week, the Gary Library Board begrudgingly voted 4-3 to close the main library at year’s end. The board has been weighing a series of options to stem a gaping budget deficit of $3.9 million.
Board members balanced closing their largest library against closing all the branches. That’s a tough decision. In the end, the board chose to keep its library services spread out across the city so more people could use them easily.
It’s a decision that’s difficult to criticize, but easy to bemoan. Critics already have chimed in with visions of the main library’s large, empty hulk disgracing its prime real estate address.
Along with the physical carnage of another abandoned building,, the closing is expected to leave about 30 employees jobless.
The main library is home to several historical collections destined to be divided up among the remaining branches.
About the last thing any city can lose is its central library. It offers a wealth of literacy services to residents who depend on it for books, computers, videos and programs, like the popular chess club.
With fewer than nine months left on the library’s lifespan, a way to save it seems doubtful. Gary’s fortunes aren’t expected to reverse that soon, but as long as there’s time, there’s hope.
Can a coalition organize to lead a fundraising drive? Can donated money be used for operational expenses? The library’s future looks doubtful, but we hope the city finds a way to make it happen.
Either way, a new chapter awaits.