Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Our president doesn't read, why the hell should you?--Decline of Civilization Part VIIII

I’m reading Gibbon. Please go away--Every one has their own measure for the health and well-being of a society. Mine is libraries. How a society treats its libraries (and its literacy) tells you a great deal about it. Folks, we are in deep doodoo.

Thanks to cutoffs in federal funding, 15 libraries in rural Oregon are going to shut down in April, the largest library closure in U.S. history. The libraries in Jackson County lost $7 million in federal funding, about 80 percent of their budget. They are all either brand new (Medford) or newly rebuilt. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, other library systems have been on the brink, including Salinas and Merced Counties in California and Niagara Falls in New York. They were rescued eventually. But this, according to the Chronicle, is different, at least in scope. There are political charges flying back and fourth, children are marching in the streets, and an effort to increase library funding through a property tax has triggered a backlash from the same kind of boar heads who helped destroy California's school system with Proposition 13.

The libraries will close April 7.

The origin of the problem was the failure of Congress (controlled then by Republicans, of course) to reauthorize $400 million for rural counties to goose their economies. Oregon was hit the hardest, and Jackson County lost $23 million. They had to cut everything in sight, including jail beds and first responders. The county was left with the choice of emergency services or books, so they chose the former. Otherwise "we won't be able to monior misdemeanor sex offenders anymore," the county administrator lamented. A crooked railroad deal a century ago--not uncommon in the West--also was involved but that is too complicated to get into, except to say Oregon thinks Congress reneged on funds promised in an agreement with Teddy Roosevelt. Trust me on this. Oh yes, the spotted owl gets involved too.

Three times the good citizens of Jackson voted against a tax to fund the libraries. It's coming up for a vote again and is unlikely to pass because of voting rules on tax increases. God forbid they should have to pay for government services.

The Medford library is brand new and just opened this week.

Just as well. It will be harder to figure out what to read. According to the Wall Street Journal (this one is free), separate book sections in newspapers are becoming a thing of the past. The latest one to fall will be the Los Angeles Times, a paper being sliced to death by its corporate owner and the barbarians on Wall Street. The section will be merged into an opinion section. The reason in this case can't be necessarily blamed on the owners of the newspapers--book publishers are no longer buying ads in these sections. That leaves only five newspapers with separate sections, down from a dozen 10 years ago. Other papers also are reconsidering, including the Washington Post (what will Bush do without a book section, you may ask), the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Only the New York Times, which has a book section too powerful for even the dumbest publisher to ignore, seems immune. The publishers have been putting their advertising money in paying bookstores to prominently display copies. The move from the newspapers, the Journal points out, however, doesn't seem to work--book sales are down.

Of course they are.


Anonymous said...

I lived one county over from Jackson for 8 years in the 1990s. At the time I was surprised that any southern Oregon county had public libraries, although the one I used was surprisingly good, probably because they depended on donations from the local literates. The closing of the Jackson libraries will, sadly, have little civic affect.


chsw said...

I think that the municipalities can find some money for the libraries. After all, they originally were built and operated with local public and private sources.