April 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

Angry Detroit library backers sound off

Vow to fight plan to close most of system's branches

Detroit — The Detroit Library Board of Commissioners on Tuesday heard anger and promises to fight a controversial proposal to close most of the system's neighborhood branches.

More than 100 library users and staffers packed a room at the main library on Woodward for the panel's first meeting since a plan was released last week that could close 18 of 23 branches and lay off more than half the system's 333 workers. Administrators say tough choices are necessary because the system faces an $11 million shortfall this year and revenue drop of 20 percent per year until 2015.

"I will not stand for it," said Ashley Matthews, 17, who says she often takes her 2-year-old daughter to the Chaney branch at Grand River and Greenfield, which is on a closure list.

"Can you live with yourselves if you close our schools, close our libraries?"

Commissioners didn't discuss the proposal, saying it was premature. But they passed a resolution that bans users with more than $10 in fines from using computers in hopes of getting more people to pay their fines. Board members are scrutinizing potential closures and didn't say when they'd make a decision. The budget is expected to be approved in May.

"We are in a tough spot, but we will get through it," commissioner Luther Keith said. "We aren't perfect but we are working on solutions."

Matthews, a member of the activist group By Any Means Necessary, and others promised to fight any closures. Matthews said she was among students who staged a sit-in last week at Catherine Ferguson High School, which is slated to close this year. She and other members of the group said they will launch the same protests if libraries are closed.

An initial closure list was given to board members last week. The list of targeted branches stretches throughout the city and could force residents to drive several miles to an open one.

Carolyn McCormick, a librarian at the Frederick Douglass branch that is on a closure list, said backlash is building.

"We are being cussed at and being talked about," said McCormick, who started crying after she stopped speaking. "People are desperate out there."

Regina Ann Campbell,of Detroit, whose mother is a librarian, told the board she hopes the library works with the residents to come up with solutions short of the massive closures.

"We don't need a lot of vacant buildings," said Campbell. "We have plenty as it is."

cmacdonald@detnews.com

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