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December 06, 2016
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Libraries: the great equalizers

One of the most disturbing things about hard economic times like those we now face is that the institutions that sometimes seem to be the first on the chopping block are those that serve the most basic of our common needs and aspirations. The privatization of Sullivan County’s Certified Home Health Agency, discussed in last week’s newspaper, which stands to remove a last recourse for home health care for the many in the county not fortunate enough to be insured, is one example. Another is the pressure being put on our public libraries, a phenomenon that has dogged the Pike and Wayne county libraries for some years now, and was more recently evident in a meeting of the board of the Western Sullivan Public Library (WSPL). (See “WSPL director resigns” in our February 24 issue.)

It’s partly a question of who we define ourselves to be. Is America the land of opportunity, or the realm of dog eat dog and the devil take the hindmost? If we are committed to the idea of equality of opportunity, then libraries are one of the last places to start tightening belts. It is here that everybody, regardless of income or prior education, can find the tools they need to educate and better themselves. Here is a nexus of information and cultural offerings, made accessible to anyone who walks in the door. And in an era of rapidly changing communications technology, here is a place where everybody, even those who cannot afford to keep up with the changes in electronics and media, can participate in humanity’s evolving communications, from hard-copy books to vinyl to CDs, DVDs and computers. When you’re having trouble paying the grocery bills, you may not be able to scrape up enough money for Netflix—but a library card is free.