08 July 2010

Plays Well With Others

What did we learn at summer camp? We learned to play well with others, whether it was a Mozart string quartet or a bassoon quintet composed by Alexander Spitzmuller-Harmersbach, who lived from 1894 - 1962, or so it said in the Humboldt Chamber Music Workshop Program.

We learned that whoever designed the student dormitories, back when Humboldt State University was only a College, whoever that was must have used plans for state prisons when constructing these identical concrete cells decorated with tattered “Turn Out Lights When Not in Use” stickers dating back to the oil crisis of the 1970's.

Under a particularly difficult to move piece of furniture we discovered Rebecca’s driver’s license. How did Rebecca get a drink or drive a car without her license? How did she sign up for a library card?

Sometimes we REALLY fail to get along well with others. Take, for example, World War II. That extreme failure to cooperate is reflected in the novel I’m starting now, “Spies of the Balkans” by the excellent novelist Alan Furst.

We also fail to understand the needs of others when we allow shrinking budgets to destroy public libraries. These quiet sanctuaries are exactly the community places we need most – comfortable, central locations where information and people interact at no charge, with no commercials, where the tools of learning are mentored by experts, where people who need these things most benefit from using them.

Libraries usually are the first services to suffer cutbacks, yet what other publicly funded endeavor gives back so much for so little? Contrast spending on libraries with any part of our immense war budget. Try it on a bumper sticker:

     "It Will Be a Great Day When Libraries Have All the Money They Need,     & the Military Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber."

Marilyn Johnson writes in the Los Angeles Times that librarians “represent the best civic value out there, an army of resourceful workers that can help us compete in the world.” Not to mention help children dream.

She says, “Those in cities that haven’t preserved their libraries, those less fortunate and baffled by technology, and our children will be the first to suffer. But sooner or later, we’ll all feel the loss as one of the most effective levelers of privilege and avenues of reinvention – one of the great engines of democracy – begins to disappear.”

I have long wondered how 19th century steel baron Andrew Carnegie came upon his campaign to fund free public libraries throughout the country, and pondered why Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Warren Buffet and other well-intentioned plutocrats do not loudly support public libraries. They must have people to tell them the news: the US gap between rich and poor is larger now than it’s been for eighty years.

Maybe they believe books are old-fashioned or dying. They would be wrong. They may not fully understand how modern libraries are successfully interfacing  with the bright new electronic world.

Or maybe they do realize all this, but libraries are out of fashion for rich people. There is not a lot of Ted Conference glory involved in supporting the institution. That’s plain short-sighted, as most of us realize.

So the next time your local library is in the bulls eye for layoffs, cuts in hours and services, or outright closing, give out a shout in opposition. Make it politically painful to cut a library budget.

Many more citizens protest the closing of an animal shelter than bother about the loss of a bookmobile. Which facility is more important to our fellow humans? I ask you.

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One place to purchase a version of the sticker quoted above on paper, or t-shirt, mug, baby apron, hooded sweatshirt, water bottle.

NEWS ARTICLE from the Ann Arbor Journal:

Michigan Peaceworks hosted its second satirical "Bake Sale for Bombs" Saturday evening at the intersection of State Street and North University in downtown Ann Arbor with the aim of promoting peace. Members of the group, however, were deterred from selling goods by both city and university police midway through the event.

Peaceworks, founded in 2002 in Ann Arbor, was initially created as a non-profit project devoted to preventing the Iraq War. With supporters from across Washtenaw County, the organization dedicates itself to raising awareness on the causes and effects of militarism, and other social justice issues.

For more of this story, click here.

On the gap between rich and poor...

IMPORTANT SELF-PROTECTING CAVEAT: I do understand that the people wise enough to support animal shelters are exactly the same people who understand the importance of libraries.

1 comment:

paul in davis said...

Sales taxes and property taxes are just about the only sources of revenue that a city or county has at its disposal to support libraries (and cops and firemen and city council members). When those revenues go down, services get cut. The average citizen has almost no direct impact on property taxes, but the average citizen CAN choose where to put their sales tax dollars. If locals shop online or outside of their county on a consistent basis, libraries are certainly doomed.

It's ironic how cities pass measures to increase their sales tax while that same citizenry continues to shop elsewhere. The entire community would gain more benefit from cities pushing the "shop local" theme instead of raising sales taxes in a knee-jerk reaction.

The facts are indisputable: you get what you pay for. In this case, you lose what you don't pay for.

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