One recent Friday morning, I put my library books in the car and tooled over to the Lakewood branch of the world-famous Dallas Public Library. Halfway there, I remembered that the Lakewood branch – like all library branches – is closed on Friday.

So much for being world-class. Nothing illustrates how far Dallas fell during the past decade more than the decrepit condition of the Dallas Public Library and its branches. Consider, for instance, that a new nail place at the Lakewood Shopping Center has the wherewithal to open its doors on Friday, but the eighth-largest city in the country can’t find the cash to do the same thing for its branch libraries.

It’s time we face this problem and figure out what we’re going to do. Putting begging notices in water bills or signs in the library – I’m especially fond of the ones that say there aren’t any books to check out because there isn’t any money to buy books – are not even the beginning of a solution.

We must decide if we want a top-notch library system, and if we’re willing to pay for it.

If we’re not, we need to take appropriate action, put the money we’re already spending on the library system elsewhere, and stop fooling ourselves.

Anything else is a waste of time and money, even if, like me, you believe Dallas needs a library system of which its residents can be proud.

The library’s dilemma is not only pitiful, but typical of the City’s mindset during the go-go days 10 years ago. Back then, when the good times were never going to end, the City Council kept voting to give money to what City boosters like to call the extras, the things that were going to make Dallas an international city – a top-notch subway system, a top-notch symphony hall, and the like.

When the good times finally ended (despite all predictions to the contrary), the library and the zoo were left in the lurch, private money finished the museum, and the City bailed out the symphony hall in a deal that still rankles those of us who worry about back-room deals.

The subway, of course, is still out there on its slow track to wherever it winds up going, hell-bent on giving public transportation an even worse reputation than it already has in Dallas.

The library began with a handicap from which it never recovered. When you decide to spend zillions of dollars on something, and then there aren’t zillions of dollars to spend, it leaves you with more than a budgeting problem. It leaves you with a where-are-we-going-to-go-from-here problem, something the library has struggled with from the start.

This is the library’s biggest despair – certainly more important in terms of its future than the homeless who fall asleep in the stacks at the Downtown library, a topic which gets more than its share of attention.

When people go to use the library, and it’s not open at a time when it should be, they become frustrated. It’s only natural to wonder why we should spend tax money on the library when it’s not open when we want to use it, or if it doesn’t have the best-sellers we want to check out. It’s even more frustrating when you see how far the library’s research capabilities have fallen – even at the Downtown library, where research is supposed to be one of its reasons for existence.

Ironically, the library compounds this frustration in an attempt to convince the public of its dire condition. There are any number of examples of this, the most recent of which is the decision to charge users 15 cents a sheet to print computer bibliographic information. That has to generate more ill-will than any amount of revenue it brings in.

It’s just another instance of how planning, as much as anything helped put the library system where it is today.