It was hardly impressive-looking from the outside -- no great columns, no marble lions guarding the entrance -- just a plain, one-story brick building. But inside was a trove of endless riches, or so it seemed to me as a kid. It was the South Branch Library, located on the corner of Queens and Providence in Charlotte, the city in which I was born and raised.
As of April 3, it will be gone.
In devastating news last Thursday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library system announced that it was closing twelve library branches and laying off a third of its staff due to budget cuts; among those closed was the modest yet beloved temple of my youth.
I moved away from Charlotte more than thirty years ago, and have been back only occasionally to visit what family I have left there, so I have no real knowledge of the area's economic and budget situation. Maybe the funds cut from the library budget really are needed to, say, feed, clothe and shelter the poor. But it's hard for me to not see last week's announcement as terribly shortsighted. After all, it is in tough economic times that the free services provided by libraries are most needed and most valued. Not everyone can afford computers and internet access, and libraries have the resources to aid job searches, supply information for job training and provide future generations with education, entertainment and inspiration to reach their full potential.
The destruction of the library system is not complete; there were other branches that escaped the axe, though further closings have not been ruled out. And the South Branch of my childhood was not exactly in one of the poorer sections of town. Still, though the director of the library system called last Thursday the worst day of his career, I think it was a lot more than that. It was a dark day for all of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.