Shortly before I relocated to Lansing, I and a group of literacy advocates met with the County Commissioners in an effort to persuade them to extend library service to every township in the county. Now, for the Frankly Speaking readers that take their library cards for granted, an explanation is necessary. Indiana is one of a handful of states that does not provide taxpayer supported library services for all of it's citizens. 93% of Hoosiers have a tax-payer funded library card. 7% do not, and must purchase an annual subscription. While not a problem for some, many who live in a "unserved" area cannot afford a library card and thus are forced to do without.
At the aforementioned meeting we presented our case. The commissioners dismissed our request forthwith. Frankly, it appeared to many of us who were present that they went into the standing-room only meeting with their minds already made up. Sadly, DeKalb County - the county where I grew up, the county where I still own property and continue to pay property taxes - remains one of the relatively few underserved counties in the United States.
How did we respond? We licked our wounds and moved on. At Butler Public Library, a dedicated staff and board of directors are building a new library - with no tax dollars! The other libraries in the county continue to expand services and offer programming to all citizens regardless of their ability or inability to access materials that can be checked out and taken home.
Today I was blessed to return the Butler Public Library for a "topping off" ceremony. The last bit of structural steel is about to be placed at the new library and soon the structure will be buttoned up for winter so interior work can begin.
While there I inquired about the recent elections and how they might affect library service. I learned that County Councilman Larry Moughler had an interesting quote in The Evening Star. I respect Larry Moughler. He is a good Christian man. He has worked hard his whole life, raised four good sons, and served his country in the United States Marine Corps. His grandkids are friends with my oldest two children. What is more, as a Gideon, he promotes Bible distribution throughout the world. He is a great guy, really, that I'm sure I would agree with on most topics. But, if he is quoted correctly in this particular article, I couldn't disagree more.
When asked his position on bringing county-wide library service to DeKalb County, Larry said,
"I don't use the library service . . . I know to some people it's very important. To me, it wouldn't be worth it . . . I'm not a reader, I guess, so I wouldn't appreciate that."For the life of me, I just cannot understand that mindset. It is akin to me saying, "I don't use centrally dispatched 911 service . . . that may be important to some people, but I don't like to talk on the phone and don't expect an emergency, so I guess I wouldn't appreciate that." These same folks say, "I don't have kids in school, so why should I pay a school tax?"
Some services, while not universally used, are necessary because they collectively raise the quality of life and intellectual tide of a community. Library service is one such service. I cannot imagine a world where a quality library of wide-ranging books, periodicals, and media from authors and artists with whom I agree and disagree are not available to anyone who wants them. I've read about such places. George Orwell wrote about one in his book, 1984.
As I was pondering my frustration with the "I'm-not-personally-using-the-library-so-I'm-not-going-to-support-it" mindset, I spoke with a ministry colleague on the phone who told me of a quote he read some time ago:
"Those that don't read are no better off than those that can't."My fear is this: the former - those who do not read and choose to not support libraries, the very organizations that promote reading - are ensuring a greater increasing supply of the latter.