It is both instructive and revealing that the Tea Party would challenge so energetically such a hallowed institution as the public library. One hundred eighty years almost to the day the Kentucky circuit courts issued their decisions, the good citizens of Peterborough, New Hampshire created a radical, uniquely American concept–a taxpayer supported library. All town residents, regardless of income, had the right to freely share the community’s stored knowledge. Their only obligation was to return the information on time and in good condition, allowing others to exercise that same right. By 1910 all states had a public library network. Today 9,000 central buildings plus about 7500 branches have made public libraries one of the most ubiquitous of all American institutions. Campbell County’s 63,000 residents possess almost 30,000 library cards. Kenton County’s library system’s million annual visitors not only borrow books and DVDs; they use its computers and its meeting rooms and rely on librarians to help them do their homework or ferret out information about jobs and government services.
The Tea Party argues that a library tax increase of any size, no matter how trivial, is unwarranted because of economic hardship. A far more compelling argument is that times of economic distress demand a larger, not as smaller information commons. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s public libraries were serving 60 percent of the population. They had so proven their value that very few libraries closed their doors during the 1930s. Indeed, between 1930 and 1940, the nation became home to 765 new ones. In a time of soup lines and economic destitution, the library was known as the “bread line of the spirit”. The Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky became famous for their willingness to ride horses with saddlebags full of books to rural households.
In response to the Tea Party lawsuit, one Kentuckian mother wrote about the enormous financial benefit her family gained from participating in the information commons. Her family of six visits the library regularly. They have access to over 550,000 books, CDs, newspapers, magazines, movies and video games. The amount of money her family saves by using the libraries’ many resources far surpasses the property tax they pay.
Which is the foundational principle of the public library. We all chip in a little bit to gain access to a free resource beyond our individual budgets. The public library proves that sharing is the wisest of all investments.
Read the full article @ The Huffington Post.