Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Library: The Great Equalizer (Until a Misguided Governor Kills It)

If I live to be 100 years old, I'll never have the time to gain wisdom enough to figure out how politicians can so consistently lose sight of the big picture. Ted Strickland, Governor of Ohio, has proposed a budget (merely several days before the fiscal year ends) where he slashed library funding by over 50% in an obvious attempt to do away with Public Libraries.

I say this is an obvious attempt because certainly Mr. Strickland knows that libraries are depending upon that funding, that for some libraries that is the sole funding available to them. In addition to that, Mr. Strickland purposely proposed this slash days before it would be enacted knowing full well that the libraries would then have no time to recover or develop any plan of action.

Apparently Mr. Strickland, who likes to believe himself a champion of education reform, believes that only people with money should have access to books. Without a local library then anyone without a car is not able to obtain books, magazines, newspapers, or have access to a computer. Without money to purchase said items, then a person's only option is the library. Libraries need to exist and they need to be LOCAL. Therefore, there needs to be many of them in order for them to provide the access to information necessary to preserving our democracy!

I have to ask, why would Ted Strickland want to restrict access to information?

Mr. Strickland is not a reformer of education, and he is certainly not modernizing anything. He's trying to revert Ohio back to an old-school form of education that is contained within classroom walls and centers around biased textbooks. Just months ago, he pointed out that we were lagging behind other nations in our test results, and that the nations testing better than us had economies that were growing at a faster rate than ours. Guess what they have that Governor Strickland thinks we don't need? FULLY FUNDED LIBRARIES!

Mr. Strickland has not thought about the fact that libraries serve as community centers for teens and pre-teens after school. When the libraries close, thousands of kids around the state will have no safe place to go. Mr. Strickland has not thought about the fact that most baby boomers looking for jobs go to the library for help with online applications, even to apply for unemployment benefits. He hasn't thought about the literacy support that the library gives to schools.

Mr. Strickland has not thought about the costs of making such dramatic cuts. He has not thought about the price tag that will come when teens and pre-teens have no place to go after school, when teachers need to start purchasing materials no longer available for free from the library, when businesses are not able to develop solid business plans because they can't research them through the library, when people can't access unemployment benefits, tax papers, or social service applications. Mr. Strickland has not thought about the cost to the state when THOUSANDS of library workers across the state are laid off and begin to access unemployment, food stamps and medicaid.

Mr. Strickland has not thought about the long term costs in terms of lost literacy. He has not thought about the writing that will never happen because research will become too expensive. The children who will never become fluent readers because neither their parents nor their school can possibly purchase nearly enough books for them to practice their reading. The students who will not be able to take the GRE because they don't even know where to get help since their library is closed. Students who will not be able to research colleges. Investigative reporters who won't -- oh wait. I'm sure Strickland doesn't want any investigative reporters checking on anything.

How do I know that he has not thought about these things? Because after days of calling him and people in his administration, I finally was able to talk to a living breathing grown up, not a 20 year-old intern. I asked these specific questions, and he could provide no specific answers.

This has not been thought out and researched. Strickland has determined that he doesn't need libraries, so neither does the state of Ohio.

Several summers ago, as I was dropping Lawyer/Social Advocate Boy off at a class downtown, my other children saw a man standing on a street corner. He was holding a sign that said: PL 426 ENEMY OF THE POOR.

It caused quite a stir in the backseat because my children were very offended by the sign.

"No one should be an enemy of the poor!"

"Ya, I'm mean, they could be poor too one day!"

I listened to them banter back and forth in righteous indignation, and it wasn't long before I realized that they misunderstood the sign. Rather than thinking that the man was protesting a public law, they thought that he was standing there identifying himself as "The Enemy of the Poor."

Ohh... they were so wrong. That man wasn't the enemy of the poor. Ted Strickland is.

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