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Death Of Libraries And The Decline Of Civilization,

By Eric 'Renderking' Fisk -  August 29th -  September 9th 2009 Bookmark and Share

Ren's Rants - The Fedora Chronicles Sept 2009One of the projects I wanted to work on last week was shoved aside for a short while on behalf of this rant and finishing a construction project in our back yard. Judging from the title, you can guess what's on my mind. When I started writing this late last week my wife could tell that I'm emotionally distraught after reading an article about a library that I used to frequent. The place where I used to spend most of my time while attending school in that city is cutting it's hours. The Fitchburg Public Library now down to just 21 hours a week.


BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL

Even with cruel choices, cities can sustain libraries

RESIDENTS IN the cash-strapped city of Fitchburg are living in a bibliographic tundra with just 21 hours of weekly library service and no borrowing privileges in many neighboring cities and towns. Fitchburg is an extreme case, but it offers a chilling look into the future where local officials are desperately trying to balance the delivery of essential services, like police and trash pickup, with highly desirable ones, like library service.

This year, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners denied certification to nine communities, including Bridgewater, Fitchburg, and Medway, because of shortcomings in library hours, operating budgets, or acquisitions of new materials. The loss of state funds isn’t so consequential given that the commission supplies only about $7 million in direct aid to municipal libraries. The bigger hit comes in the area of interlibrary loan and borrowing arrangements within regional library networks. Decertification carries a pariah status that often prompts library trustees in neighboring communities to reject the library cards of users who hail from towns with unaccredited libraries.

The certification standards set by the state library commissioners are too high. In times like these, it is too much to require that local libraries stay open a minimum of 63 hours a week and provide operating budgets equal to the average of the previous three years plus 2.5 percent. But in fairness to state library commissioners, they are pretty generous when it comes to offering waivers. Last year, for example, the state commission gave a pass to 24 of the 26 communities that couldn’t meet the agency’s hours and budget standards, according to Robert Maier, director of the library commission. Maier, who strongly defends the standards, anticipates that commissioners will probably be forced to decertify another handful of underfunded library systems after the fall application process.

In June, Fitchburg’s mayor, Lisa Wong, cut the library’s budget by nearly $800,000, or 68 percent. That’s too much. State library commissioners, whose job it is to provide cities and towns with incentives to protect library service, couldn’t look the other way. Wong, for her part, says she tried to craft hours in an intelligent fashion. Circulation statistics, as a result, didn’t fall nearly so dramatically as the budget.

There’s more to libraries, however, than just book circulation. They have become job search centers where the unemployed depend on materials and the talents of reference librarians to look for work. Fitchburg would be a better place with longer library hours. But like many communities, it faces brutal choices. Cities and towns in similar straits should consider regionalizing library staffs and acquisitions, not just borrowing privileges, as is done in Hamilton and Wenham. Such examples, however, are all too rare in the parochial cities and towns of Massachusetts.

State library commissioners, meanwhile, should lighten up on towns that are trying to recover. A probationary certification, for example, could protect borrowing privileges at neighboring libraries while town officials look for ways to restore service. Library lockouts are simply too strict a solution to this vexing problem. 


I'm concerned about the growing illiteracy in The United States and perhaps the rest of the world. Couple this with some of my other observations that I've made in the past. People don't seem to care enough to read about current events, newspapers are closing and shutting down their printing presses because these publications can't seem to figure out a way to make their web presences generate revenue. People rely on processed news by-product generated by the sausage factory we call the main stream media where events from the day are made into bite sized morsels that's easier for the mind to digest.

But what about the people who do care about news and information beyond the media hyped snippets? And the people who don't have the resources the rest of us enjoy such as internet at home?

While reading the story that I reposted above, I was thinking back to my own life through out the decades. I thought about the hours I spent at the public library in the small town in Vermont where I grew up. What would I have done or where would I have gone during all those hours after school or on breaks when it wasn't time to go home since I had no ride or there was nothing to go home to?

Then there were the years when I was living in different parts of the country while attending school, where I would complete homework before heading to my night job. Were it not for a quiet place to do my homework in the middle of town, I hardly think I would have been educated much beyond High School. Nor do I think I would have finished High School without the library in the first place.

Redwood City Public LibraryI've also been thinking about the periods in my life when I didn't have a home at all. What immediately comes to mind is when I was living in California, sleeping in a vintage Chevy not far from where I worked. The public library in Redwood City, California was practically my living room for almost a year. I had no where else to go besides wandering the streets and driving around. There's just so much television a man can watch on a set that runs on a secondary DC car battery. Besides wondering the streets and driving around? And there's just so much television a man can watch on a set that runs on a secondary DC car battery.

Every town where I've ever lived, I've known where the library was. I've been to every one of them, spent time in them. As I progressed with my career and became more financially stable, I spent less time in the library and more time in book stores where I don't just check books out, I take them home and keep them. As I progressed with my career and became more financially stable, I spent less time in the library and more time in book stores where I just don't check books out, I take them home and keep them.

But before that, the Library was a safe place to go. It's been the perfect place for a young man to go and stay out of trouble and learn something. For someone who reads, it's always been an impossible place to be bored. With out these institutions, what would I have turned to to occupy my time?

No doubt there are some people in libraries who are reading this rant, just as I know that there are young men and women who have read my articles while on-line at the library in the past. I know; I've received the e-mails.

And what about those who are now the age I was back when I needed the library the most? What kind of trouble might they be getting into? In a town like Fitchburg that's rapidly decaying with stores and businesses closing and fewer opportunities for after-school jobs, what's going to happen?


Now it seems that as a way for governments to save money to balance their budgets they're attacking what seems to be an easy target; the institution that once stood for all citizens as a symbol of our desire for knowledge and information but has sadly been wrongly viewed as obsolete in the era the internet. It also seems that governments are punishing the "have-nots" for having to rely on them for their basic needs, such as a place to get news and information.

Call me crazy, but there's a part of me that thinks that this is some dark and sinister plot to keep some of the poorer voters in the dark. As if by shutting off the tap of free information at the public library, they're more likely to stifle decent. An ignorant constituency is a happy one - since ignorance is bliss. An ignorant constituency is a happy one - since ignorance is bliss.

Also, libraries don't just exist to lend books out and allow public access to the internet, but serve as public meeting areas. That's a direction that some libraries like the one in Groton, Massachusetts has taken by creating a more friendly environment for people to gather. That's a direction that some libraries like the one in Groton Massachusetts has taken... created a more friendly environment for people to gather.

What's next? If local municipalities close something that's essential to school children and teens looking for a safe place to do homework and research for reports, where many local records are kept for everyone to see, and where older people who don't have access to the internet at home go to enjoy what we take for granted, what's going to get cut next? School hours?

And when these assets, like buildings and the contents inside, are sold off - once the libraries are closed forever - who will profit most? I'll guarantee right now; it won't be the local tax-paying citizens or the people who once relied on the libraries in the past.

Is it not a leap to think that the federal government will soon cut programs and grants that broaden our understanding of the world we live in here on Earth and the universe beyond our sphere? Will the internet be cut off to people outside of certain social groups since it's regulated by the government to some extent? We can find the money to pay retention bonuses for executives who had already left large banks to work somewhere else, but we can't seem to find a way to keep essential services open and available?

Historians of a future culture or civilization are going to look back into the past - our present - and say that this was one of the points in time when our society took a steep dip further into decline. They will say of this period; when they (meaning us) denied access to the very young, the elderly and the poor easy access to information - that's when that society lost the right to exist. Historians of a future culture or civilization are going to look back into the past - our present - and say that this was one of the points in time when our society took a steep dip further into decline. They will say of this period; when they (meaning us) denied access to the very young, the elderly and the poor easy access to information - that's when that society lost the right to exist.

Fitchburg Public Library LogoAnd when this society does eventually collapse, an event that I fear will happen soon, I have to ask; what was the point in winning World War II? Sending men to the moon or telescopes into space? Ignorance and intolerance will have won, sooner rather than later.

If you're able to read this, and your library is in trouble - do what ever you can to save it. Contact us if you need help and support. Bookmark and Share

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Boston Globe: "Even with cruel choices, cities can sustain libraries..."