According to the Post-Dispatch, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (a Republican) is following in the footsteps of his predecessor Jay Nixon (a Democrat) in trying to cut funding for public libraries across the state.
When making budgets, governors and legislators tend to shift money in the direction of industries that have lobbyists knocking on their doors and handing over campaign cash. Unfortunately, libraries have no lobbyists because there’s no profit to be made there.
So I’m going to lobby for libraries today.
Part of my devotion to libraries comes from the fact that my mother was a librarian for over 40 years and, in my teens, I worked in the public library in my hometown, shelving books two or three days a week for two bucks an hour. In those days, aside from knowing my way around the Dewey Decimal System, I also used both the school and public libraries regularly as a resource for homework assignments — not just copying paragraphs out of the World Book, but using the Reader’s Guide To Periodicals to find old magazine and newspaper articles on microfilm — and to discover non-fiction books on whatever I was obsessed with at the time (e.g. the Marx Brothers, NASA, and the Fortran computer programming language).
Today, as adults, my wife and I borrow library books all the time — she reads 2-3 novels a week, while I get lots of autobiographies and other non-fiction. I also use the St. Louis County Library’s vast audio collection to fill in holes in my music collection, borrowing CDs that I rip into iTunes. We’ve even started using one of the library’s research databases to learn Spanish!
Other patrons use the library for its trove of movies on DVD and videogames, or as a place where there are computers with free internet access (an invaluable resource for people without a laptop or desktop who need more online information than they can get via their phone), or a shared location for kids programs where they can learn the value of reading and story time.
If you’re the kind of person who says, “I don’t care, I never go to the library, so I don’t want my tax dollars going there,” that’s like saying, “I don’t have kids, so I don’t want to pay for the schools” or “I’m homebound, so I don’t want to pay for the roads.”
Libraries are an important component of any thriving community, particularly in rural areas, where they don’t have access to larger collections, but can request materials through inter-library loan. They are a central part of our common knowledge base. When we’re not fully funding that, we’re losing something vital. Making libraries do less because of political penny-pinching hurts every single one of us.
The other day, I wrote about the Arkansas legislature trying to ban Howard Zinn’s book, “A People’s History Of The United States.” What I didn’t say at the time was that banning books is a concept straight out of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
If you don’t get that reference, go to your local library and borrow a copy.