Caroline, age 24, wants to go on the Internet and look for a “real job.” She knows how the Internet works. She learned how in high school. But Caroline doesn’t have a computer. She can go to the local public library where it’s free and available to the public.
Caroline gets on the bus, rides in air conditioning to the library a few miles from home. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Thursdays. It’s only open Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. She could have learned their hours but she doesn’t have a computer to check.
We think everyone has a computer at home. Right? Wrong. America ranks sixth in home computer ownership. Israel, Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden are all ahead of us when it comes to families with home computers. In Israel there are 122 personal computers for every 100 people, in America there are only 76 computers for every 100 people.
So Caroline must go to the library. Her only problem is Thursday is her only day off and day the library is closed. So she must plan on going in the evening direct from her job. The problem? There is always a long list of people waiting to use a computer. And, you are limited to the time you can use it.
How about Pierre who lost his job due to a slowdown in his former employer’s business? He signed up for unemployment compensation.
The only problem is he must report on his job searches, on a computer, as you no longer go to the local unemployment office and make out a weekly report on job searches. Pierre is on the same waiting list as Caroline. If he doesn’t get on a computer soon he will lose his next unemployment check and then there is really a financial problem in his home.
Kids do a great deal of research on computers for homework. No computer at home? They too will end up on the same waiting list as Caroline and Pierre. The truth is there are far too few computers for the long list of individuals waiting to go on the Internet — forget about the fact that a reduced 40-hour schedule due to the need to save money in a tight county budget. It was worse, but pressure from the press and the demands of the public forced expanded, but still limited, hours.
The funny thing — if you can call it funny — is that the library is funded by a special tax, separate from the ad valorem tax we pay on our real estate — and, small as it is, the fee you must pay when a book is returned after its due date.
Here is the problem. We forget about the fact that our children rank 22nd in math among the nations of the world. In reading, we rank 20th in the world behind such nations as the Slovak Republic and Lithuania. We think about the billions more we need to expand and update our military.
We think, appropriately, about the pressing need to reduce the national debt. We think about weak bridges and highways with potholes.
What we don’t think about is the fact that America needs to improve the educational level of our youth. We need to upgrade the skills of the working members of our society to reach our goals.
And, our libraries are a very, very basic tool in meeting our nation’s goals and yet we put them on the back burner and think about problems we face that could be resolved more easily of America became a more educated society. We need our libraries open six days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Perhaps our libraries should be under the control of our school board. Now there’s an idea.
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