EDITORIAL: Some ignorance can be cured

WHAT IF IGNORANCE was classified a disease? In that case, you could define public education as a partially effective immunization program. It lasts some folks for a lifetime. Others… not so much. But that would still leave all the untreated outbreaks of ignorance and ignorance relapses.

Naturally, not all cases of ignorance are treatable. Some sufferers resist help, preferring instead to remain carriers of this illness, infecting others who are not properly immunized. Leaders in the field of ignorance-ology would tell us there’s no single cure. They’d say that each case is unique except for mass ignorance, which is a form of hypnotism rather than a disease.

What if a powerful antidote to ignorance existed? It works but only if the sufferer voluntarily chooses to use it and only if that person determines the dosage and the length of treatment. What if the antidote wouldn’t bankrupt the patient before the cure took hold? We would welcome and support that antidote, wouldn’t we?

Maybe not, if the powerful anti-ignorance treatment in question is the library. The governor’s executive budget for the state fiscal year will cut 5% from aid to libraries statewide and $20 million from library construction aid. The state budget is supposed to be adopted by both houses of the State Legislature by April 1, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has been successful in pushing through on-time budgets during most of his time in office.

Libraries are a $2.4 million industry in Columbia County, but unlike school districts, very little state library aid goes directly to the 11 libraries in this county or any other libraries in the state. Instead the money helps fund cooperative services like the interlibrary loan program, which gives library users access to an enormous number of books and other materials.

The $20 million the executive budget would cut from library construction aid represents a nearly 60% loss in funding. That money does go to local libraries to allow them to make improvements that meet the needs of all kinds of people who use libraries now or who might use them if they were more accessible and efficient.

There’s another library funding issue that’s looming over our libraries and the public they serve. Next year, for the first time ever, the U.S. Census will gather most of the data for the national headcount digitally. This matters because the 2020 census will determine how much federal funding will be available to Columbia County and all its municipalities.

The New York Library Association (NYLA) says that “mistakes” in the last census “cost the state billions in funding for education, health care and infrastructure.” What has that got to do with local libraries? According to NYLA, “one-quarter of households that earn less than $50,000 per year rely on their library for internet access.” These are the households “which have historically been undercounted,” and right now libraries “will be the primary points of service for New Yorkers who require assistance to complete their online census forms.”

NYLA is calling on the state to spend $40 million to prepare libraries statewide for this census task. Our state can spend it on helping the libraries get up to speed for the census or we could do nothing and let the funds this state could have received go instead to California, Texas or Florida. Quick Quiz: Which is the non-ignorant choice?

The biggest problem facing those who want the state to spend more on library services of all kinds is how little money we’re talking about. At budget time, the state’s political leaders are debating programs that cost billions. The $91 million for library aid, the $20 million slashed from library construction and the $40 million to prepare libraries to help ensure a fair census amounts to chump change to the leaders. They’re too busy with the big bucks.

What we can do is to let our state representatives and the governor know by letter, phone or email that Columbia County residents want library support increased, not cut. There’s a lot of ignorance going around these days. Libraries are a key component in building up the public’s resistance. Think how ignorant it would be to weaken libraries now, just when we need them most.

Here are the people to contact:
• Governor Andrew Cuomo 518 474-8390
• Senator Daphne Jordan (43rd) 518 455-2381
•Assemblymember Didi Barrett (106th) 518 455-5177 (Ancram, Claverack, Clermont, Copake, Gallatin, Ghent, Germantown, Greenport, Hudson, Livingston, Taghkanic)
• Assemblyman Jake Ashby (107th) 518 455-5777 (Austerlitz, Canaan, Chatham, Hillsdale, Kinderhook, New Lebanon)
• Assemblyman Chris Tague (102nd) 518 455-5363 (Stockport, Stuyvesant)

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