Boys and girls, gather around. I have a story to tell. Years ago, long before you were born, we used to wonder about things. All sorts of things. Things like, how many people are on the planet today? Who was the 11th president of the United States? What’s the capital of Argentina? And, believe it or not, many times, our questions just went unanswered. Our thirst for knowledge went unquenched. We wondered about things, and we were often left to just not know.
We’d wonder about the names and characteristics of different plants and animals we’d encounter. When a familiar actor appeared on TV or in the movies, it was perfectly normal to be stumped by the question, “Where have I seen him before?” At social gatherings, our curiosity would lead to debate. Sometimes, people would offer multiple, competing answers for a single question, and it was impossible at that moment to know for sure who was right.
Some people used to go to buildings called “libraries” to learn things. They’d borrow books at no direct cost and return them to the library so that others could borrow the same books to read.
I grew up in a rural town in Arkansas, where there were no libraries. However, I was lucky, because my parents owned a set of encyclopedias. Do you know what an encyclopedia is? No? I’ll tell you. An encyclopedia is a book, similar to Wikipedia, that contains facts and information on an array of topics, which are arranged in alphabetical order. A set of encyclopedias covers every topic you can imagine, usually one book for each letter of the alphabet. Now, my parents’ encyclopedia set had one problem: The books were published in 1960, meaning for me, anything that happened after 1960 was still a mystery. I could answer questions about Dwight Eisenhower, but my encyclopedia told me that John Kennedy was the junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts and Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor and a union president.
Today, the totality of all human knowledge can fit in your pocket, on my or your phone or a home computer. To any question you might dream up, we can search for the knowledge almost anywhere at anytime. Your questions don’t have to go unanswered like mine did just 25 or so years ago. Encyclopedias still exist, but the knowledge is constantly being updated and uploaded on the Internet. Near-infinite sources of information, including news articles and research publications are just a click away.
We no longer need to go to a library to get a book. Many books are available for download, often for free, on our phones and computers.
In Meridian, there’s a proposal to borrow $12 million to build two new libraries. That debt will cost taxpayers a lot of money for a long time. The library’s director, Gretchen Caserotti, says the role of libraries is changing with the times.
“If you think about digital/computer literacy like a 3-legged stool, you need to have 1) a device to use 2) reliable access/connection to the internet 3) the skills and knowledge to accomplish a task,” Caserotti said. “If any one of those legs does not exist for a citizen, they will struggle to navigate & be successful in this modern world. And at MLD we are a leg of the stool for a great number of people. And we do that on top of the excellent traditional programs and services we offer our residents.”
But it seems more like the Meridian library exemplifies the propensity of government programs to stay forever, regardless of actual need.
For the kind of money being used to maintain and expand the library system in Meridian you could buy every household the technology like the one I just used, in less than three minutes, to download Atlas Shrugged, find out that our planet is home to 7.4 billion people, and learn that James Polk was the 11th president and the capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. Perhaps it'd be best to leave the tax money in people's pockets, and allow them to purchase better, faster, personalized services that foster their skills and knowledge.