EDITORIAL: Antidote for ignorance

NEWS OF THE NEW CORONAVIRUS is scary enough, even though no cases have appeared yet in this region. But we are already seeing another contagion related to the illness: online misinformation and disinformation about the virus.

Misinformation is spreading fast through search and social media. It doesn’t target us specifically, but you don’t have to search long (less than 30 seconds on Google) to find a “Natural Remedy” for a viral infection that does not yet have any known cure. What we face is a simultaneous outbreak of a new sickness coupled with the old epidemic of ignorance. Fortunately, we have tools to counteract ignorance if we agree to support them.

The remedy requires both access to accurate, understandable information as well as a willingness to learn. That second part presents the bigger challenge. Conspiracy theories and phony remedies naturally command our attention. Who doesn’t want easy answers? But let’s assume people do want to know more. When that’s the case where should we turn if we’re not scientists?

What about the local library? There are 11 of them in Columbia Country. Oh, but really, it’s so much easier to consult your mobile device and on your own find endless sources of information about this virus. Endless. How can we manage too many choices?

There are people who have advanced degrees in the related fields of information science and library science. They might not know the answer to your question but they know where to find it. Many of our libraries employ people with this knowledge. All libraries should. And that is costly.

Your library is supported in one way or another by tax dollars. But it’s not enough. Statistically, we spend less per capita on our public libraries than any of the other four counties in the Mid-Hudson Library System. Even Greene County, which has fewer people than Columbia, spends more per person.

Our library services are improving, with the latest example being the opening of the new Claverack Library. But without the library system they would not be able to offer many essential services like inter-library loan (materials from throughout the system and beyond delivered to your library), eBooks, eVideos and eMagazines, and automatic renewals to name just a few. The system is the hub of knowledge and entertainment, the place you could go if you needed to know something or wanted to read or watch or listen to it for any reason or no reason at all. And no library user has to pay a charge at the door for these services.

But this year, once again, the governor’s budget proposes to cut library spending, slashing $5 million off the current library aid budget of $91.6 million, much of which goes to the library systems, and carving off another 42% from library construction aid, which would mean a $378,392 decrease in construction aid funds for libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System.

The state faces a $6.1 billion shortfall as negotiations begin for the annual state budget. It might seem that under these circumstances full funding of libraries is a luxury the people of New York State can’t afford. But that’s got it backwards. The State of New York can’t afford to reduce funding for services that people need more than ever.

There are costs attached to having a hoodwinked public. No one forces an adult to use a library and make what common sense suggests are better choices about infectious diseases or anything else. But how can we fault the public for not using the library if library services are treated like low-priority spending choices.

Funding libraries adequately at both the state and local level sends a message that knowledge matters. Lots of people already know that. In 2018, the most recent year for which records are available, nearly 26,000 people in Columbia County had library cards. That amounts to roughly one card for every household in the county. Plenty of room for growth. Room for hope, too: hope that there are homes where the library services help improve the quality of life. Hope, too that these same library services might help save lives as well.

The Mid-Hudson Library System says the The New York Library Association (NYLA), the libraries’ lead advocate in Albany, has letters that can be sent to state representatives in Albany and to the governor through the NYLA Online Advocacy Center at http://bit.ly/1LwV3Ex

Tuesday, February 25 is Library Advocacy Day in Albany. For more information go to http://midhudson.org/library-advocacy-day/

Every voice counts.

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