Early this morning, the space shuttle Endeavor took off for it’s final mission into space. The only real press coverage focused on the fact that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords–the one who got shot in Tucson–was there to send her husband off. Much was made of this.
Little was made of the fact that this is the end of an era.
After this mission, Americans will no longer have the ability to ascend into space. Half a century of human imagination will recede into history. All due to budget cuts.
Evidently, the United States can no longer afford a space program. Or SETI (search for extraterresterial life), or the arts, or family planning or public education…
Yep, that’s right, libraries. According to state and federal authorities, libraries are no longer necessary. Evidently, the populace no longer reads books, nor does it need the score of computers, internet, and community reference materials that a local library provides. Bankrupt state governments have decided that public school libraries don’t need librarians, unless they are also qualified to teach a traditional class, as well.
Evidently, all learning now occurs in a classroom. As a society, we know that, since our test scores are through the roof, and we are so ahead of other nations (ones with libraries) that we don’t even need to compete. Local governments don’t see the expense of keeping public library doors open, much less purchasing new books or facilities upkeep.
A local library is one of the last free community resources. It provides books and other media, free internet service–no purchase required–and often forms the center of a community. My grandmother, the daughter of a dirt poor coal miner, discovered her love of reading at the small local library in a tiny Kentucky town. My mother had read every children’s book in her public library before she was 12. This carried over. When I was a child, I was taken on a weekly trip to the local Long Beach (CA) public library (Ruth Bach Branch). No matter how tight things were financially, every time I walked into that library, so shelves overflowing with a cornucopia of knowledge, I felt like a Rockefeller. I have had–and used–a library card in every city I’ve ever lived in, including my present home of Albuquerque, NM. I only visit every 2 weeks or so, but check out at least six books every time. Since I do not have internet at home, the library provides me with the opportunity to write this.
Libraries are used by everyone, but are depended upon primarily by the poor. Many of my unemployed friends correspond with potential employers via library internet. They revamp their resumes with the help of library materials. The library is often the only way for my unemployed couch surfing friends, their unemployment insurance long gone, to even look for work. Their email address is often the only solid address they have. That and a “throw away” cell phone. Contrary to what the mainstream press would have you believe, the economy is not recovering and this population of folks with “electronic addresses” is growing.
As a sociologist with an economics minor, I’ve always known that a society values what it spends its money on. So, let’s look at where our tax dollars are going. Corporate subsidies, tax breaks (paid for by the rest of us) for companies to move their workforce overseas, military “aid” in the form of troops and weapons to despotic middle eastern dicatators, oh, and let’s not forget, prisons for nonviolent offenders.
We spend money on these things and consider education, medical care for the poor, and public libraries disposable. There’s even talk of selling National Parks to pay our overwhelming national debt. Meanwhile, the poor get poorer, as does about half of the middle class.
Welcome to the third world.