Some months ago, I was writing at my own computer on the creation of one of the world's great dictionaries, Webster's Third International. Part of my research took me to KCPL, where a young man led me to its own copy of this monumental work. This activity was not high-tech. Other research was done here at home, but could have been done at one of the library's computers. For those with portable devices, the contents of thick books may be loaded into the device and carried home for reading wherever one reads.
To see our local library and its branches in danger of being stripped of $3 million of its annual budget does not bode well for the future. Possible effects include staff reductions, fewer technology upgrades and fewer new books. Will we be able to check out DVDs? Will we be able to chat with a librarian about a research need? Will I be able to receive help to retrieve books on the lowest shelves, which are difficult for me to reach? Will reduced hours impair the work of students who sometimes use the library as a place to study and do homework? Will homeless people be able to have a few hours in a climate-controlled building with many entertaining things to do?
The answer to each is probably "no."
Think of it. We are speaking of minds here. We are not talking about a mere collection of dusty books and unused encylopedias. We are talking about the center of a culture, a reading culture, surely, but also a culture of those who treasure the space.
What I fear will be a view of our beautiful river valley and lovely hillsides as a place where knowledge is not honored, and where the dream of a library and better classrooms fade, and our small city and its neighbors are moved back a century, or more.
As a onetime preacher, I alert us all to the reality that many of the great religions have at their center a book or books. Some of those books may reside today on lighted screens. Look five years ahead, and our great but poorly housed library on Capitol Street may lack $15 million in support. Our community has lost its annual Book Festival. Will our population bless those who said "against" to the levy? In the future, I suspect, even those opposed will have regrets that this levy failed.
Donations will help, of course. Infusions of taxpayer money will do more good. What shall our course of action be?
Posey, of Charleston, is a retired minister with the Presbyterian Church (USA).