Ain’t Got No Culture

A town without a library is a town without culture.

On July 2, the Monroe County (Florida) Board of Commissioners were to meet to consider the permanent closure of the Marathon, Big Pine, and Islamorada branches of the Monroe County Public Library. This closure would come on the heels of a significant decrease in library hours.

I am pleased to report that Mayor Mario Di Gennaro told us Friday that the library cuts are off the table. I am displeased to report that the cuts were on the table in the first place.

The Commissioners had hoped to save less than $10 per capita.

Once closed, these libraries would never reopen.

Closure is a cultural as well as an economic issue that will affect every business in the Keys. The loss of our library sends this unmistakable message: “The Monroe County Commissioners do not value learning or culture.” Our residents demand the learning and our visitors demand the culture. And, of course, vice versa.

These library branches serve thousands of residents and tourists alike. Over 1,200 children have library cards and use our library to check out books and other materials.

Popular reading materials still make the bulk of the collection; that’s wonderful for everyday readers, but there is so much more. The library provides reading at preschools, home-school support, youth programs, and research help (I have recently used the Marathon branch to learn how to remove a Chrysler Lebaron gas tank and I have researched local history there).

Home-school support has a nice warm-and-fuzzy feel to it but it is a serious economic issue: imagine the budget impact if just 10 home-schooled kids re-entered the traditional school system because the Commisioners closed the library. Or 50 home-schooled kids. At over $10,000 per student per year.

It may be difficult for those of us reading or responding to this blog to believe that some people really do not have computers or Internet access. Many people do not. Libraries fill that void.

The free computer use for Monroe County citizens enables food stamp, social services assistance, and unemployment benefit applications. Users can conduct online job searches. They can prepare taxes and Social Security applications. They have access to Florida State services, statutes, and resources.

And users can read the news.

There is nothing more important to a free society than the free availability of the news.

I’m thinking that in this election year the Commissioners knew we would lose any Commissioners who lose us our libraries.

And that would be news.