Like a great many other people this past week, I threw a little money in on a Kickstarter project to bring back Reading Rainbow. It has now far surpassed its $1,000,000 goal and is up to over $3,000,000 with some 89,000 supporters, after a mere three days. It’s not just nostalgia that is working to bring LeVar Burton’s project back–there are plenty of DVDs out there of the original Reading Rainbow, and they remain delightful. Anyone wanting to revisit the past can do so easily. No, it’s that people found that program to be a great way to get kids excited about what they will find in books–that the work of learning to read will be worth it if they get good books to read. So I am delighted to be part of a crowdsourced project that will get kids reading new books by new authors.
I mention this because I ran across a very disturbing article from the Huffington Post about libraries under attack by the Tea Party. It sums up a situation in Kentucky where the Tea Party is fighting public libraries in court to try to cut off their funding. It quotes one of the Tea Partiers as saying, “Our country was founded upon those taking action against tyrannic government.”
And here’s what’s funny. As one website puts it, Benjamin Franklin was “the original crowdsourcer.” He put together 50 people willing to pay 40 shillings each to buy books to share, thus creating the original public library. Their motto was “Communiter Bona Profundere Deum Est” or, “To support the common good is divine.” That would be the Benjamin Franklin who is one of the Founding Fathers so beloved by the Tea Party and other super-conservative people. The common good was once considered a moral imperative, not an evil concept to be fought at every turn.
Public libraries make it possible for people, regardless of income and circumstance, to share in the same knowledge as people with rich resources. Libraries have always been about access to information, and that is just as true now as it ever was. That information is now delivered in a wide variety of ways, not just books. Libraries have been around literally thousands of years in some form, as a way to preserve history and thought. They still support the common good, whether that is realized through kids who can come to the library and find the books featured on Reading Rainbow or through adults who come to the library to fill out a work application or who find the book that helps them plan their new business, or the program that brings them together with other people who share the same interest.
There are libraries in my own area that seem like they are being attacked from within by the super-conservatives, whether they call themselves Tea Partiers or not. It feels like we are living in dangerous times. What we need, clearly, are people who believe in libraries to stand up and speak out and run for library boards. When I say “believe in libraries” I don’t mean are willing to throw money thoughtlessly at whatever people want, but I do mean people who are willing to make good choices with taxpayer dollars to bring information and knowledge to their own communities. Because Communiter Bona Profundere Deum Est: To Support the Common Good Is Divine.