These are tough budget times, so it’s no surprise that cuts are being proposed in the City budget. The layoffs being proposed are obviously unfortunate and will result in more people being out-of-work, which doesn’t seem like it can have any positive impact on the overall economy, but that’s a topic best discussed elsewhere. Amid all the layoffs and department cuts being proposed, however, there’s a chance that an important proposed cut won’t get the attention it deserves: the closing of the West Side Community Branch Library.
The West Side branch library, located in an 1886 firehouse, has been serving the West Side community for decades. Since 2005, it has also been connecting to the William B. Cashin Senior Activity Center. The West Side branch library is considerably smaller than the main City Library on Pine Street, but its role is important. The library sits along Main Street where the dense Piscataquog and Notre Dame neighborhoods meet. The library provides a place for children and teens, including students from neighboring West High School, to gather after school; for seniors to gather; for new residents to find information; and of course for area residents to pick up a book.
Libraries may not show up as moneymakers on the city’s spreadsheets, but they are attractive and desirable assets for a neighborhood. Manchester’s underfunded transit system makes getting to the City Library either a hassle or a hike for residents without cars, and it removes an important institution from the city’s West Side. Prospective residents (not to mention current residents) looking for a vibrant, urban neighborhood want to be able to walk to a library, even a relatively small branch library. Properties within walking distance of a branch library can market their proximity, raising property values and strengthening the tax base. As more people are looking to move into vibrant, walkable, urban neighborhoods, the West Side branch library should prove to be a marketable asset whose operating costs will be offset by increased property values and economic development. If Manchester hopes to attract and retain residents, workers and businesses (and strengthen its property tax base), it needs to invest in and retain desirable civic assets like branch libraries.
Budget times are tough and the City is in an unenviable position, but closing the West Side branch library has long-term consequences and is a short-sighted way to balance the budget. Temporarily reduce hours and staffing if necessary, see if some work can be done by volunteers, solicit donations, but don’t permanently close the West Side branch library.
The West Side aldermen are united in their opposition to the proposed closure, but their voices alone won’t spare the West Side branch library. Whatever ward you live in or which side of the river you live on, the closure of the West Side branch library will set a precedent for future cuts and be a setback to the long-term expansion of the city’s property tax base. There will be a public hearing on the mayor’s budget during a public hearing at Memorial High School on April 6. If you can’t attend, consider contacting your alderman and ask them to support the West Side branch library.
This is the first post in an ongoing LivableMHT series, Livable/Unlovable, that will comment on proposals, projects and other topics that are either good (Livable) or bad (Unlovable) from a livability/urban development viewpoint.