BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Laretha Jackson is one of 158 Birmingham Public Library employees who will be furloughed starting Friday.
Jackson, a librarian at the Birmingham Public Library’s Springville branch, said she is concerned about her own well-being, but even more about her community. She said it’s a job she needs and she’s not sure what she’ll do without it.
“Will unemployment cover all of my bills?” Jackson said. “Will unemployment be able to provide me with being able to feed myself?”
The furloughs are the result of budget cuts by the city of Birmingham, which faces a shortfall of $63 million due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many businesses to shut down or scale back operations for months. Mayor Randall Woodfin has said he’s trying to strike a balance between limited tax dollars and how they’re allocated, as well as making sure that services are still being provided. He believes he’s found the balance.
The end result is that on Friday, all but one of the city’s 19 libraries will remain closed, something Jackson said will leave people in many communities without the resources they need. The system’s Central Library in downtown Birmingham is set to reopen to the public Oct. 1.
“A lot of times, we’re the only smiling face that they get to see, we’re the only interactions that they get to see,” she said. “We get a lot of homeless people that come in. So that engagement is really important, I think, to our community.”
Jackson was one of several who expressed those frustrations to the Birmingham City Council Tuesday. Outside City Hall, protestors held signs suggesting that the city devote less money to law enforcement and more to its libraries.
“This is a time when city officials, elected officials, in my opinion and in many’s opinion, should be expanding public service benefits,” said Celida Soto, a community activist who participated in the protests. “But instead the money is going to a broken law enforcement system.”
Soto said closing libraries also is a concern for students during the pandemic when they need the resources perhaps more than ever.
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