Defend Cincinnati's Public Library Against Private Developers
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On July 31st, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Board of Trustees for the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County has decided to close the north building of the library’s main branch. The "Our Library, Our Decision" campaign is concerned about the board’s lack of transparency and the likelihood that the decision will result in the privatization of public space.
The board of trustees has been considering the possible closure of the north building of since October 2016. It decided in June to proceed with a plan to close the building and to enter into a “pre-development” agreement for it with the developer, 3CDC. These deliberations have been going on for about ten months. However, at no point in this process did the board make any effort to publicize the fact that it was considering a plan that might result in the sale of a full block of publicly-owned, downtown property—valued in 1997 at $7.7 million (prior to the construction of the north building). The decision was never formally announced, and only became widely known through investigative reporting.
It appears that the board intends to sell off the north building, but the board has not been forthcoming. On Channel 12’s “Local Newsmakers,” Library Director, Kim Fender insisted that “no decision to sell the building has been made.” However, the library’s fiscal officer, Molly Defosse immediately went on to say that “the sale of the building would help (fund the board’s facilities plan).” Such contradictions suggest a lack of good faith.
Why is this so important? As parks, schools and government buildings are increasingly privatized, the library is one of the last few truly public spaces. It is one of the few spaces where you can go without having to spend money. It provides a safe space and educational opportunities for children. It is not usually acknowledged, but libraries often supplement childcare for those who cannot afford it. It provides shelter, job services and opportunities to those in need. One member of the public at the board's August meeting spoke of sleeping there when he was homeless, another spoke of launching his small business from the library. This is a lot to lose, and if the building is sold, we will never get that public space back.
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