Yes It Is, It’s True: Libraries offer free services for the mind

“Why don’t you go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts?” — Frank Zappa

About 25 years ago when I was covering a Hastings Township Board meeting, I heard one trustee say she was against a proposed millage for the Hastings District Library, maintaining that anyone who wants to read should go to a book store.

I must add that she was a Democrat, so Republicans haven’t cornered the market on ignorance.

Libraries are turning to local millage support for funding because they are more consistent sources, and librarians will tell you their service to the public is much like that of police, fire and roads. But too many still believe taxes are too high, and they don’t use these services.

So Thursday night’s Leighton Township Board meeting brought up the issue when it was reported the Leighton District Library gets more money each year from millage than fire, roads and the township itself. Fire and roads get one mill, just like the library, but their levies have been rolled back to 0.98 because of the Headlee Amendment. The library, according to the rules, can levy as much as 1.65 mills.

Treasurer Char Troost said she gets complaints from people who don’t use the library, but still have to pay that one mill. She asked Supervisor Steve Deer to ask the Library Board to reduce its levy.

Ms. Troost can deny this ‘til the cows come home, but her request smacks of the same ignorance I heard from the Hastings Township Democrat in the 1990s. The obvious implication is that libraries are not as important as public safety, an assertion with which probably a lot of people would agree.

It makes me sad.

We pay taxes for services we cannot afford for ourselves. I cannot afford to hire a cop or fireman to watch my house 24/7. I can’t afford to have the road in front of my house paved or graveled. But if we all pool our resources, we all can get the benefits of these services.

The same is true for education and libraries. Because we have millage levies, we can go to the library and have our children go to school for free.

My comments in response to Thursday night meeting’s developments are mild compared to the expert analysis one of the Townbroadcast columnists, retired Henika District Library Director Lynn Mandaville:

“Anyone who complains about one mill of support for libraries doesn’t have the first idea what it costs to run and keep current a modern library.

“Let’s for a second set aside the fact that libraries are the first line in defending the First Amendment, then let’s set aside the fact that public libraries are the only bastion for preserving for the ages the collective wisdom of vastly diverse viewpoints from all over the world, and, finally, let’s set aside the fact that libraries are hands down one of the best bangs for the buck you can find anywhere.

“Where else can you go FOR FREE and have access to books, magazines, movies, audiobooks, ebooks and music, all that you can take home? Where else can you find FREE children’s programming and literacy programming? Where else can you find dependable reference help? Where else can you use computers and get computer training for free? And where else can you find a community meeting place in which to gather with your friends and neighbors?

“And I haven’t even touched on the resources for home schoolers and tutors, or local cooperation with early preschool programs. Depending on your community you may even have accesss to English as a Second Language classes, or heirloom seed collections.

“The list does go on and on.

“Farmers don’t use libraries? I don’t believe it. When I was librarian at Henika Library there were lots of farm folks who used our services and collections. Farmers don’t use libraries? They should. Farmers know better than anybody how to stretch a dollar, to be financially creative and responsible.

“I dare anyone to find me an institution that is a better steward of its scarce resources than public libraries. For far too long public libraries have been treated like the bastard children of their municipalities. You have to acknowledge them, but you don’t have to support them.

“I would love to see Leighton Township break the cycle of underappreciating libraries. Levy that full mill, and do it every single year. You will be setting an example for libraries everywhere and putting your mouths where your hearts truly lie – with your children, your grandchildren, and with the free nation that you love so well.”

The librarian has thrown down the gauntlet.


1 Comment

  • Dave, your article is extremely well written and your points are right on. Libraries are more than just books . Their name should be changed to a title that fits the services they provide- a Resource and Learning center would be a title that fits them well. A library is the barometer of the community it serves. It reflects how well the community values the pursuit of learning of their children as well as the general public. Dorr is a great example of a community that cherishes its library . Thank you, Dave for your support of libraries through the years.

    Peggy E. Otto-former President of Dorr Township Library

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