Saturday, August 29, 2009

You can book it . . . Omaha comes through

When politicians and cranks are losing their heads and hardening their hearts all around you, sometimes good people will step up and do the right thing.

And when city council members are desperate to avoid hard choices -- and when the sort of taxpayer who likes to call into talk-radio programs is railing against the possibility of paying $26 more in property tax a year so the city might be saved -- some people will dig deep for the common good.

I LOVE OMAHA because this is the kind of place where somebody usually steps up. According to the World-Herald, it has happened again, and the city's libraries are saved . . . for now:

You could see the signs for blocks along the stretch of 30th Street that leads to the Florence Library.

“Save the Florence Library.”

“Please help save the library.”

Omaha did.

The bucks rolled in Friday for Omaha Public Library services, and it looks like the Florence Library will remain open.

Library leaders weren’t sure of the exact amount raised by Friday evening but said they had raised more than enough to keep the library open and fund other library programs and initiatives.

“We’re ecstatic about how the private sector has responded,” said library board President Kevin Thompson. “It’s been a good day, in my opinion, for the city and for the Omaha Public Library.”

Donations ranging from a Millard patron’s $50 check to $75,000 from a pair of Florence natives were triggered by a challenge grant announced Thursday.

The $200,000 challenge grant, from donors who wanted to remain anonymous, was contingent upon Omahans raising an additional $100,000 by Sept. 1

With pledges that poured in early Friday, it appeared as though the goal had been reached and the operating hours, staff and programming at other library branches would not be sliced after all.

The e-mails, phone calls and messages from contributors moved Carolyn Rooker to tears.

The chief executive officer of the Omaha Public Library Foundation took a call from the two Florence natives, who also asked to be anonymous, and one told her: “I consider the Florence Library an important part of my education and who I am today.”

The news sparked a celebration in front of the library branch Friday evening. It had been planned as a community protest to keep the library open.

“This is what you call a community. You guys did it!” Sherry Grayson said as she held a bullhorn she didn’t need. “This is called self-initiating.”

Thompson said the $300,000 would be enough to keep the Florence branch from closing and to stop other cost-cutting moves, such as the layoffs of about 50 library employees citywide.

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