Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Do the best thing in the worst of times—support your local library

When I was young, there was no library in the town where my family lived during the school year.

Dad and Mom were dry farmers with eight children; plainly, they didn’t have the approximately $250 needed to buy a set of World Book encyclopedias. We were different from the prosperous irrigation farm families around us. We paid a social price for wearing patched and faded clothes, and spending money on encyclopedias wouldn’t help.

Yet, through a time payment plan, harvest work and scrimping, Mom bought a set of red-bound World Books—even before our elementary school had encyclopedias.

Those books were our Wikipedia, our atlas, our referee in heated arguments, our gold mine for information to win movie tickets in radio contests, and our escape hatch into worlds of science, geography and culture.

Desperate for entertainment during summers on the dry farm, where there was no TV reception, we read encyclopedias.  I liked mythology. At the end of an article on Zeus, it said, "See also Aphrodite, Apollo and Hera," which I did.  If I’d known I was learning “research skills,” I wouldn’t have done it—after all, school was out!

Mom’s investment paid off. Several of her children were high school valedictorians, and all went to college, as have most of her 43 grandchildren.    

If she had believed the manifest truth that she couldn’t afford encyclopedias, we would have been cursed with ignorance—a far greater curse than poverty.

As with a family, so with a city.  In hard economic times, some say we can’t afford libraries.  Actually, we can’t afford to let our children grow up without the tools of knowledge.

Modern students do research on the Internet if they have it; not all families do, nor do they have many books in their homes.  At school these students face an educational chasm deeper than Hells Canyon.

Blessedly, libraries in most Treasure Valley communities bridge this “digital divide.” Will Manley, library commentator, wrote that in a library, “those who are technologically disenfranchised can develop their digital literacy . . . in today’s world, digital illiteracy is as defeating as basic illiteracy was in the days when color television was the next big thing.”

Librarians teach everyone—with or without library cards—how to use library computers.

A library is the community’s living room, with programs ranging from story times for children, to movies for teens, to book clubs for adults. Folks who like the feel of turning pages check out books, and also magazines, movies, cds, puzzles, and more.  The Lynx consortium allows cardholders to obtain materials from other Western Idaho libraries, to be picked up locally.

A user can download ebooks from a home computer using “Overdrive” and “Access 350.” A free “BookMyne app” allows users to use iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Android devices to search the library's catalog, manage accounts, check bestseller lists, and scan barcodes of books to see if the library has them.

All people deserve educational opportunity.  Walter Cronkite said, "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."


  1. I so agree with you. My son, who is now 18, and I went to the library 3-4 times a week when he was young. When I occasionally say now, I'm going to the library do you want to go with me. He usually is quite ready to tag along.

    I hate the thought of libraries disappearing. Our library has cut hours drastically.


  2. Betty, I'm glad that libraries continue to be an important part of your life and your son's life! Be lifelong learners!