Chicago Libraries A Waste? Fox Chicago Poses The Question (VIDEO)

07/01/2010 02:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In a provocative six-minute segment, Fox Chicago News sparked a debate that is catching fire nationwide: with the city facing a serious budget shortfall, and the changing technological landscape, are the city's libraries worth funding anymore?

The piece, "Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?" prompted lengthy commenter debate both on Fox and on Galleycat, a prominent book-business blog where the story was picked up.

Scroll down for video of the segment.

Opening the clip is a quick-hitting man-on-the-street discussion:

"The last time you went to the library?" the reporter asks.

"Uhh..." "Wow, it's been a long time."

"Do you even have a card?"

"No." "I don't."

"Where do you go for information?"


With this set-up, the piece delves into the question: with budget cuts hitting schools, police forces and transit lines across the city, why are we spending $120 million in property taxes on libraries?

Framed in this light, that question seems rhetorical. The piece does go on to present a number of favorable statistics about libraries -- circulation is up, they're busier than ever -- but still paints libraries in a rather negative light.

A hidden-camera investigation at the Harold Washington Library downtown showed hundreds of people coming in over the course of an hour, with many of them using the internet.

But, the reporter says sardonically, "The bookshelves... weren't so busy." Two seconds of grainy footage shows the research stacks of the library, unpopulated.

In the point-counterpoint interview that follows, the last word goes to Jim Tobin, president of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois. When asked if the libraries don't provide a valuable service by enabling the unemployed to use the internet for job search, Tobin responds, "Well, the jobs aren't there. And the jobs aren't there primarily because of excessive government spending and tax increases."

That is to say, government spending on things like libraries is the reason for such high unemployment.

Naturally, the story has prompted quite an outcry. Commenters have pointed out that the internet services alone make libraries a worthwhile tool for the state's poor; that they promote literacy for children; and that they are valuable research tools, especially for media outlets like Fox News. commenter Bunny Watson addressed her note directly to the reporter:

I hate to tell you this, Ms. Dalvantes, but you need to spend a lot more time in a library than you did to get the whole story. The problem is, you and your ilk really aren't cut out for long-term, in-depth analysis. Yours is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

[That's Shakespeare, dear. I know this because I use libraries.]

Other commenters stood by the story. Kay Dew Shostak had this to say on Galleycat's story, "Fox News Attacks Chicago Libraries":

A What an incredibly misleading title! You should be embarrassed. After watching the entire clip - there was NO attack. There were questions - but since when is questioning how money my money is spent an attack?

HuffPost readers, watch the clip below and let us know what you think about the discussion. Comments are at the bottom of the page.