Remembering the Important Role of Public Libraries

The following article appeared in the September 30th edition of the Lebanon Daily News.

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Pennsylvania’s budget impasse left many libraries without state funding. Frequently, local news programs have featured one library or another telling a sad story about how they have been forced to cut back.

Thanks to Benjamin Franklin, we can take pride that Pennsylvania was the birthplace of public libraries. In the mid-1700s, when Franklin created the first public library, he did so with the intent of making books available to low- income people in his community. As a result, the common person in Philadel phia had access to a depth of knowledge previously only available to the rich and the powerful. Those without access to a good education could take personal re sponsibility for educating themselves and their children.

In recent times we have seen public libraries largely abandoned, and I be lieve that there are two main reasons for that.

The first is the Internet. The vast amounts of information readily available to anyone with a connection to the Inter net has caused many to use it as their sole source of knowledge outside of formal settings. I love Google’s Book Search feature. The ability to search thousands of books, especially ones con temporary to any historical time period, is a resource that local libraries cannot hope to match.

Many people, however, cannot afford an Internet connection and rely on free access at their local library.

The other reason is the public school system. Its creation has removed much of the sense of personal responsibility in regard to education. Many people, kno wingly or not, view schools and colleges as the only means of learning. When ed ucation is handed to you, in fact mandat ed to you, then you have no sense of appreciation for the education you re ceive.

Schools have their place, but how much money should taxpayers provide to educate others’ children? Shouldn’t each set of parents bear the responsibili ty for their own children? It is simply a matter of whether we want to take per sonal responsibility for our education.

My hope is that we as a society can be a little more like the people of Frank lin’s day and see and appreciate the great gift we have been given in public libraries. Politicians are fond of telling us how poorly our children are doing in their schools and telling us we need more funding for those schools.

I would suggest though, that that funding would be better spent on public libraries where people can rediscover a sense of responsibility and joy in learn ing new things.

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