Death Of Libraries And The Decline Of Civilization,
By Eric 'Renderking' Fisk - August 29th - September
One 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
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
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
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.
I'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
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
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?
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
And 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.
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Boston Globe: "Even with cruel choices, cities can sustain