This Monday, February 12th @ 11:30 a.m., I, along with the directors of the three other libraries in the county, go before the County Commission to validate once again the importance of libraries in the life of both the individual and the community to ensure no cuts to our funding. What would it mean to your life if the library one day simply disappeared? Does it make a difference to the well-being of the community?
You can show your support for the libraries of Jefferson County in two ways: by contacting the Jefferson County Commission Office at 304-728-3284 or each commissioner individually to tell them just how important the library is to you, your family and the community:
Josh Compton, President, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Tabb, Vinemont.email@example.com
Patsy Noland, firstname.lastname@example.org
Caleb Hudson, email@example.com
Peter Onoszko, firstname.lastname@example.org
or by coming to the budget hearing on Monday, February 12th at 11:30 a.m.
WHY? (Why are libraries a fundamental social good?)
A glossy fundraising brochure from my alma mater’s library arrived in the mail the other day declaring “No one would die if the library didn’t exist, but we wouldn’t truly live.” Initially, I thought, how true, but the more I think about it, I think my alma mater might not have carefully thought the statement through. We all know that reading enriches a life—it is through stories and ideas that we learn about worlds that may be unknown to us. Fiction allows us to share another person’s experiences and feelings, giving us a different perspective on and an experience of lives that we can never live. Non-fiction provides us with different interpretations and different ways of thinking about the factual world. Non-fiction also provides self-help and directions for creating a myriad of objects. As one writer wrote, “It was through reading books and comics that I came to understand hope is not a foolish concept, love is transformative, heroes and friends come in all guises and monsters can be vanquished.” She noted that she may not have survived a traumatic childhood without seeing that there is another way through life. So perhaps, without access to reading materials, people would die. The literature is full of these sorts of examples—reading is what has given many of us the life we now have.
But, reading is not all that a library provides. A library can provide authoritative information that can assist in decision-making. For example, if cataract surgery is required and a patient is given a choice of procedures, conventional or laser, in addition to the information the doctor may have provided, a patient might wish to do more in-depth reading on the subject. Librarians are highly trained professionals with advanced degrees who have been educated to find information and evaluate it for its reliability and authority. In any case, the library exists, not only to provide reading materials, but also to help people navigate a vast information landscape that can be daunting. Good information makes for good life choices.
Society is now fully immersed in the information age. The most important general purpose technology of our time is artificial intelligence, especially machine learning. Most of us have not realized how artificial intelligence has infiltrated our lives. If you have a smart phone, and you ask the intelligent assistant for directions, you have had an encounter with machine learning. If you drive a car that brakes for you when you get dangerously close to the car in front of you, you have had an encounter with machine learning. With machine learning, computers can improve their performance without human input. They can learn how to perform tasks on their own. Yet, the one thing that computers cannot do is pose questions. They are devices for answering questions and for doing routine work. What this means is that people are essential to figuring out problems and opportunities to tackle, but not essential for routine matters. Those who are nimble and creative thinkers will succeed in a world filled with machine learning. Those whose literacy levels are below par, will have a very difficult life in the age of artificial intelligence. Reading is about more than reading. Reading develops a mind to be more creative, to be able to analyze and synthesize information and ideas. This is why early literacy is so very important to our future, both as individuals and as a society. And this is why libraries have a vital role to play within any community.