ONCE, A LONG TIME AGO, an editorial appeared here or in a long-gone publication urging voters not to support a funding request by a local library. Or maybe it’s just a bad dream. Either way, pardon the reflex reaction, but the Kinderhook Memorial Library needs more money to meet the growing demand for library services. Kinderhook and Stuyvesant voters should turn over their November 8 ballot. There’s a funding proposition on the back. Please mark the Yes box.
If you don’t live in the towns of Kinderhook or Stuyvesant, you won’t have a chance to support your local library this election cycle. Too bad. There are plenty of reasons peculiar to the Kinderhook Memorial Library that justify a 6% increase in funding and plenty more reasons why library support matters well beyond the borders of these two towns. That’s especially true now that what used to be called facts are established by the volume of the person who utters them rather than by observation, reason and a concern for truth.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Governor George Pataki signed legislation allowing local libraries to place funding propositions on the general election ballot of municipalities. Under this law, called Chapter 414, a library must first gather signatures equal to at least 10% of local voters. Only then can the library ask voters for money. At first libraries here were shy about abandoning their tradition of begging library users and town boards for money. This Chapter 414 sounded–hold your nose–political. Ugh!
Eventually a few libraries took the plunge; Kinderhook and Hillsdale for instance had early successes, as voters volunteered to pay taxes that would be used exclusively to run the library. And assured public support led to improved library services. Imagine that.
Kinderhook Memorial Library is a case in point. Library visits have tripled in the last 10 years as have the number of programs offered. Not so long ago library technology referred to cranky film projectors and a handful of rubber stamps (rubber stamp? Google it). These days what the Kinderhook Library needs are six new public access computers. Anybody will be able to use them for free, like everything else at the library.
This policy of free and open access means that an immigrant can use the public library like anyone else. Library users aren’t questioned about their religion by anyone affiliated with the library, either. There’s no standard for body type or gender identity required to obtain a library card and borrow materials. You can do your own fact checking there or ask for help from a trained human being. Maybe you’d just like to know about some topic without sharing your interests with Google or Amazon or any other data-culling entity. Go to the library.
There’s no litmus test required before using a public library… yet. But there could be consequences. In the aftermath of 9/11 the USA Patriot Act authorized the federal government to inspect library records without notifying the suspect, and the library involved can never reveal the spying happened. It’s reasonable to want our intelligence agencies to have the tools they need to keep the public safe from terrorists. It’s just as reasonable to want limits on the government’s ability to assume someone poses a threat based on the library materials that person has used.
Is this a paranoid reaction to a legitimate government need for secrecy? I might have thought so before the Republican Party candidate for president announced that if elected he would put his Democratic opponent in prison. Where would he or someone like him draw the line? He doesn’t want to know about you or me right now. But what if, someday, he did?
Public libraries are not partisan. They don’t support one candidate or the other. But they are a front line in defending our liberty. Republicans, Democrats and everyone are welcome to use their public library, which is precisely why each library is so critically important to our community and our nation.
Each library is a source of knowledge, information, entertainment and wonder limited only by the mind of the library user.
But libraries can only remain independent to the extent the public–not the government–is willing to subsidize them. The library is yours. You have the privilege of paying for it to exist. Don’t let that privilege slip away. Please turn your ballot over and vote Yes in Kinderhook and Stuyvesant on November 8.