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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Petition started to save Stetson

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Stetson Branch Library is the smallest of the city’s libraries, nestled in the center of a Dixwell Avenue strip mall.
It’s an unlikely home for a library.
But for supporters now petitioning to keep the place afloat amid the possibility of budget cuts, Stetson is “far more than a library,” the petition says.
With a projected $469.28 million city budget for fiscal year 2008-09, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. estimated last week he must find $17 million to balance the package. He’ll either have to raise taxes, seek concessions from city unions, secure more state aid or reduce city services.
Stetson is one city service among several that DeStefano suggested may not make it into the budget this year.
Closure of Stetson remained on the table Tuesday, according to city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.
“We still have not gone to print on the budget. We’re still looking at a number of choices. If we have sufficient state aid ... then we wouldn’t be in the position where we would have to explore these types of choices,” she said.
Even suggesting that Stetson close was “a real slap in the face” to Mae Gibson-Brown, a retired teacher and foster mother who has organized Concerned Citizens for the Stetson Branch.
The group is circulating a petition “opposed to the closing down of the Stetson Branch Library.” As of Tuesday afternoon, about 124 people had signed the petition at the library. A total count from all circulating petitions was unavailable.
Stetson supporters plan to present the petition to DeStefano at a hearing on the budget 6 p.m. Thursday at the New Haven Free Public Library on Elm Street.
“When the Q House closed, it just left such a void,” said Gibson-Brown, whose home is just feet from Stetson.
“I have 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. I don’t need them hanging on the street. They will not be hood rats. They will use their minds because they are able to do so,” she said. “If you shut that library down, what are you doing to all our children?
“I can’t imagine why it would seem like even a remote idea to close a branch that is servicing the heart of the Dixwell community.”
Stetson was picked from among the Fair Haven, Mitchell and Wilson branches because it has the lowest circulation and is closest to the downtown library, DeStefano said last week.
But Stetson Branch Manager Diane Brown-Petteway said, “The days of libraries just determining their worth by circulation statistics is gone.
“It’s about accessing information on the computers, financial aid forms, reference materials,” she said.
“We have GED classes here, a Saturday youth academy, homework assistance after school. Adults come in the morning for help with resumes,” she said. “People talk about the digital divide. Most people in Dixwell and Newhallville don’t have a computer in their home. If they do, they don’t have Internet access.”
Concerned Citizen for Stetson member Chip Croft found his way to Stetson while filming a documentary on the shooting deaths of Jajuana Cole and Justus Suggs, both 13. He was filming at the shuttered Dixwell Community House across the street from Stetson when his equipment drew kids’ attention. He started a film program at Stetson. “It would be a tragedy if they closed it. They come in here to get out of peer pressure, gang activity, guns and drugs. If anything, this needs to be expanded.”
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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