Years ago I learned a lot about this county and the people in it by working the reference desk in the downtown Charleston library answering the public's questions about literally everything imaginable. However, my best public library memories are of seeing little children from schools and day care centers filing in for story hours.
As a lifelong reader I sincerely want to see all children in our community learn to read and experience the joys that reading can bring. A second-grade teacher once said to me, "Reading is the key."
As a retired librarian and a library user I voted yes on the recent levy even though like most seniors, my husband and I live on a fixed income. Over the years I have had my insider gripes about the system, but I know for a fact that it is as excellent a system for the population it serves as any in this country. This is due to the years of assured funding.
The voters have spoken -- at least the 17 percent who made the effort to get out and vote have spoken. Sad as I am, I accept that this is the way the world works. Now in the Charleston Gazette I am beginning to read what some of the leaders of the anti-levy campaign are saying about the public library and am totally appalled by their oversimplified views.
Fred Joseph, local GOP head and tea party ideologue, was recently quoted in the Gazette as advocating the privatization of the local library system. Unknown to most people who were shocked to read about it, there's an old conservative idea, privatization of public libraries, that has been living under the rocks for many years and has been resurrected and promoted locally by anti-government movements such as the tea party.
Privatization is such a bad idea that I almost don't know where to begin. Ask yourself if a private library will make decisions in the public interest or for profit. Where will they cut corners? Will they hire qualified staff? How will charging for services affect the poor, senior citizens, the unemployed and others with limited incomes? Libraries should be accountable to the public and work in the best interest of the community -- not for increased profits for its operating company.
Is the new plan to replace the public library one where some society ladies distribute used books in the poorer areas of the county while the better off citizens enjoy the privileges of a private library? Ironically, the same tea party leaders who would privatize a modern public library because they say the taxes are too much for people on fixed incomes want to cut Social Security benefits. These are scary times.
Another oversimplified but maybe well-intentioned idea proposed by a local lobbyist who worked against the levy is to convert the library to an electronic depository or virtual library in the sky. Who needs a building or people? He would have the library go to e-books for everyone. This will not save money and it is not a substitute for the public library system we have.
In a county where not everyone has the money for personal PCs and other devices used to read e-books, access to electronic books and information is not equal. Remember that not everyone can afford Internet provider service. With books there is no need for the intermediaries of readers like Kindles or Nooks, other electronic devices, software, a Wi-Fi network, a home router or subscribing to an Internet service. All you need are eyes, a brain and a book. A book does not need to be re-charged at regular intervals, as does a reading device like my Kindle.