July 15, 2010 - what the nation needs
Recently libraries were in the news in Colorado and the nation. But it was weird news.
The first case was Peter Boyles, who got very exercised that some newly built libraries in Adams County didn't have flags flying in front of them. My first thought was, Good for him. What a great opportunity to encourage citizens to step up and show their civic pride.
It happens that I know something about the situation in Adams County. They've done a wonderful job of building their inviting new libraries on very tight budgets; outside improvements and landscaping happen last.
When we opened our Highlands Ranch Library in 2000, the local Rotary club underwrote a flagpole, and then-state-senator John Evans got us a flag that had flown over the nation's capital. At our Philip S. Miller Library, a library volunteer and Board member, Sue Meacham, sponsored the flagpole in memory of her husband, Fred. That's what community involvement looks like.
But of course that wasn't where the radio pundit was going. No, the main findings seem to be that first, public buildings are required by law to have flags and flagpoles! (Um. No, they're not. Look it up.) Second, what outrageous proof that librarians were not patriots! (Wrong again.)
It happens that about 80% of the libraries in Colorado do have flags and flagpoles. The ones that don't, tend to be in rented buildings, or are part of municipal complexes where there's a flag flying, but usually in front of city hall.
The bottom line: instead of taking the opportunity to build civic pride by engaging citizens, this was all about destroying civic pride by seeking to undermine the reputation of one of our nation's most effective and credible public institutions.
In the name of patriotism?
The second new item was a Fox News piece in Chicago, questioning whether public libraries were just a waste of taxpayer dollars. No particular evidence was presented that they were. But several imputations were made: for one thing, libraries are a really dated idea, going back to 1900 B.C. (It's kind of like another really old idea called "the alphabet.")
For another, they asked, who even uses the library? Based on one day's video shoot at one location, more people were using Internet stations than were browsing shelves for books. Besides, they said, Illinois is on the verge of fiscal collapse, and here's a great way to save money!
It may well be that TV news people don't use libraries. If they did, they'd notice that library parking lots are packed, in Douglas County even more so than Chicago, and Chicago has some of the busiest libraries in the world. And never mind that we have plenty of data that shows library Internet use grows other kinds of library use (checkouts, reference questions, program attendance), too.
I'd also like to point out that closing every library in the state of Illinois wouldn't do much to help the state's budget, since most libraries get their modest funding locally.
But I think some people who identify themselves as patriots and fiscal conservatives are missing the point here.
To hear radio and TV people tell it, the problem is that people can't seem to find a sufficient number of American flags, or just aren't spending enough time sitting in front of their radios and televisions.
These aren't problems that worry me much. Here's one that does: today's generation of children, according to numerous studies, is the first in the history of our nation to be growing up /less/ well educated than its predecessor. That's in sharp contrast to, for instance, China.
That fact has sweeping implications for our country's future in a time of increasing global competitiveness.
You want to talk patriotism? How about the radical idea that fostering the skills and exercise of literacy, encouraging the populace to read, to gather and discuss, to get their facts right, to engage, and to build rather than destroy, is precisely what this nation needs.
LaRue's Views are his own.