Memphis Mayor Draws Fire for Branch Closings, Political Appointments

Article excerpt

Memphis, Tennesse, Mayor Willie Herenton, who had already drawn the ire of library supporters for placing political appointees in charge of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center, announced March 18 that the city will close five library branches for reasons of efficiency and economy. The closings, along with those of four community centers, will save an estimated $1.5-$2 million annually, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported March 19.

The closings of the Cossit, Highland, Poplar-White Station, Gaston, and Levi branches were recommended in an efficiency study released in April 2007, which suggested that the savings be channeled into regional branches or other system needs. The $600,000 study also called for the award-winning library to develop a long-term strategy for its future.

At the city council meeting where he announced the closings, which are aimed at minimizing a planned property tax hike, Herenton also defended his decision to replace longtime library Director Judith Drescher and Deputy Director Sallie Johnson with political cronies lacking library degrees. "No individual owns the library system," he said. "It is the city's library system."

Herenton also accused library management of lacking diversity under Drescher. "They had a little culture of career people there. They all looked alike," he said in the March 20 Memphis Daily News. "They had no respect for diversity. The diversity they had was fragmented. Certain people at the top, certain at the bottom."

Herenton justified the closings by stating he was "embarrassed" by the condition of some library branches. "What we had at the library system was a culture of excellence centered around the central library," he said. …