Thursday, November 13, 2008

Restricting literacy by choice. . .

When I moved to Michigan I left behind an amazing group of people who were working to bring library service to the entire county from which I moved. The place of my birth, elementary and high school years, DeKalb County, Indiana has a very special place in my heart. My family continues to live there, and when we talk about "going home," it is the place to which we are referring.

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.


Anonymous said...

My kids' school (and others, as well) has a program called Readers Are Leaders. They're encouraged to read 20 minutes a day. I have a hand-out called "Why can't I skip my 20 minutes of reading tonight?" The stats are incredible.

Student 'A' reads 20 minutes a night,5 nights a week.
Student 'B' reads 4 minutes (or less).

By the end of 6th grade, if they maintain these habits, Student 'A' will have read the equivalent of 60 whole school days, while Student 'B' will have only read for 12, or less.

One of the questions asked is this: Which student would you expect to be more successful in life?

Anonymous said...

Two things:
I'm glad to see the citizens of DeKalb and Butler take up the challenge of meeting the need of supplying a Library and it's functions to a county and it's communities WITHOUT the "help" of the government. The reason I state this is because, Frank knows I come from a community whose college, in the 1970's and 80's, took that same stand...

Secondly, I agree wholeheartedly with your stated quote, "one who doesn't read is no better off than the one who cannot read."
Every successful person I know, and I do know quite a few, they are voracious readers. They are well read in the Bible, history, politics, business, sciences, non-fiction and fiction, social issues, athletics, psychology, and other areas.
If one is not reading, one is limited by the small capacity their mind has developed and has determined it cannot go past because of simple ignorance. Reading opens the vastness of possibilities to even the most impoverished person, which has been proven over and over again throughout history by the countless biographies of those that succeeded in getting beyond their circumstances.
I've heard it said, "You are at this moment, exactly where you want to be in your life...whether you agree or not." Meaning, that because of the decisions you've made or not made in the past, your life course has you on the path that you are currently walking even if you don't want to be there. Yes, circumstances play a role, but far too many blame their circumstances for where they are instead of taking control of the circumstances, whatever they are, making a decision to change those circumstances to the best of their ability, and being responsible for their own walk with God, and trusting Him to work out those circumstances for His glory.
However, people won't know or do these things unless they read of others who have or have not done the same. God's own word gives us a warning in I Corinthians 10:6-13, of which I am not going to list here as one is going to have to dig out their Bible and READ the passage.
Reading helps us establish right and wrong thought patterns or the differences between them. Our thoughts determine our beliefs, our beliefs move us to actions, our actions determine our habits, our habits determine our behavior, our behavior demonstrates our character, our character determines how we help others, how we help others demonstrates our Christ likeness(or not), and our Christ likeness determines how faithfully we are living our lives, which ultimately determines our destiny of where we spend eternity....all because we chose to read.
In closing, I heard this from a well read speaker on the subject of reading, "I was talking with a young man the other day and he was dealing with some financial circumstances. I invited him to read some books dealing with the issues he was facing and he replied, "I don't read". I then asked him if it was worth an extra $100,000.00 a year, would he read them. He wisely answered,"What do you want me to read first?!" You see, his mind was opening up to this fact: we don't really know what we don't know. That is why we don't have. Because if we could know what we don't know, then we would have. But to know those things and then not act on them or do them, is as if we don't know them.
So it is, with reading."

Anonymous said...

In paragraph 10, you make the statement " to anyone who wants them", what if people don't? You make the assumption everyone wants and enjoys reading. I'm not a reader, but I don't consider myself illerate. Simple fact of the matter, library service is'nt important to all. To those that it is important to, it should be available, but in my opinion, not on my tax bill.

Anonymous said...

Of course not everyone wants library service. That appeared to me to be precisely Councilman Moughler's point. Frank's point, I think, was that there are people that want library service but do not receive it and cannot afford it. So you don't enjoy reading. You say you're not illiterate. Can I assume, then, that you just don't know how to type? I think a book or two on typing and grammar (you'll need to get those at Barnes and Noble since you don't patronize the library) might serve you well.

Anonymous said...

I would say that the quotation "one who doesn't read is no better off than the one who cannot read." has a lot of insight as well. Though some may be able to read, even if they don't do it on a regular basis, that doesn't justify not reading. The right side of the brain that creates thoughts about things like vocabulary and text meaning NEEDS the exercise of reading. In order to conduct thoughts well, have better diction, and speak well, it is completely necessary to read. Denying people this by not having accessible libraries could ultimately bring down the level of intelligence in these areas, especially for young children growing up who would need access to those books.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous writer who said they are "not a reader" and that you don't think you should have to pay for the use of the library in your taxes, obviously you are a reader or you wouldn't be reading Frank's blog.

I agree with Frank that we have to pay for the use of the 911 service and other services so why should there be an issue with putting the library cost in there. You may not use the library but what about your spouse (if you have one) or your children (if you have them)? If you have children they use the library on a regular basis at their school and when a teacher assigns a project which includes doing further research outside of school, do you want to have to pay outright each time they need to do research or check out videos? What if you don't have a computer at home but have an assignment that requires them to use a computer, what then?

Don't deny others just because you don't want to take advantage of the library and I won't deny you the use of the 911 service by paying my taxes.

We encourage our children and the younger generations to expand their knowledge so they can get better jobs. You shouldn't place a limit on who can use the library and who can't just because you yourself don't see a need for it.

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