Camden not ready to close the book on city's libraries

Camden's most famous author, Walt Whitman, once said that great poets require great audiences.

Yesterday, officials in the impoverished city announced a plan to give those great audiences access to great poets by developing a plan to keep the city's libraries open amid a crushing budget year.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd said that the city would seek to join the Camden County library system and that Rutgers University's Camden campus would continue to allow city residents to check out books and use computers at the school's library.

"I have and will continue to be an advocate for our libraries," Redd said in a statement.

The plan is supported by the Camden County Board of Freeholders, Redd said, and is one of the few viable ways to ensure a free public-library system in light of the upcoming budget. Redd said that she was reducing departmental budgets by 24 percent and that all three library branches were facing severe cuts and potential closure.

Officials at the American Library Association believe that Camden's library system, which serves about 150,000 people a year, would have been first in the U.S. with multiple branches to close entirely.

Camden's City Council still would have to introduce and pass a resolution asking to join the county system. Camden will introduce its 2011 budget tonight.

One of the city's library branches is just a few blocks from Whitman's former home in Camden. The poet's tomb is in the city's Harleigh Cemetery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.