Monday, June 30, 2014

For The Good Of The Community

Andrew Carnegie was, at one time, the richest man in the world. He made it there by hard work, having come from nothing as a Scottish immigrant to America with a head full of ideas and a heart full of ambition.

Once he reached the top, he made it his life's work to get rid of that fortune, in a way that would do good for the community. He spent a large part of his immense wealth in building libraries where the poor lived. He gave those who most needed knowledge a place to find it. Because he understood that those who could not afford private libraries were the very people who toiled in his factories and made him rich, he returned the favor by providing them with libraries where they could improve their minds. He gave them a chance at betterment, and then the rest was up to them.

We could use an Andrew Carnegie again.

The town of Robbins, south of Chicago, is a hardscrabble place. Dirt poor, with nothing going for it. No industry to speak of. No jobs. Poor schools. Rundown housing. But at least they had a library.

That library is about to close because there simply isn't any money around to keep the doors open.

A library needs librarians working inside of it, and librarians have to be paid. There are daily costs to light the place, cool it in summer and heat it in winter, and after that there are books to buy. Not a cheap operation by any means, even if most of the new acquisitions are donations.

A hardscrabble town doesn't have a strong tax base, and with the economy in the tank, Robbins is particularly hurting. Even in the best of times it was a struggle for the town to get by, and when the area is essentially reliving the Great Depression, the budget won't stretch. So what has to go? One of the most essential services that the town provides, but one that is not recognized as essential.

Children in Robbins don't have Internet access at home. They go to the library to get online to do their homework. Like kids in better-off towns or the well-funded city, but without the convenience. You don't have much convenience when you can't afford to buy it. It's part of being poor, finding ways to get past the inconvenience. They go to the library in the summer to participate in reading camps and reading competitions that all help to improve their brains and make them a little smarter, so maybe when they grow up they can go to college. Even a junior college would be an accomplishment when you come from the bottom.

There is not enough money to keep the doors open and the library will close, leaving all those children with no place to go when they have to look something up. No computer. No set of encyclopedias. No works of fiction to entertain a kid and entice him or her off the streets.

The William Leonard Public Library will close tomorrow due to lack of funds.

We could use a modern-day Andrew Carnegie, someone who doesn't just dump their money in some faceless foundation and then step back to accept the world's applause. We could use a modern-day Andrew Carnegie who can see the benefit to the world that can be derived from education that doesn't take place in a classroom but in a self-directed fashion. While it's all well and good to donate computers to schools, the kids aren't in school all the time and what are they supposed to do after class?

That's where the library comes in.

Adults can go there to read a newspaper and cool off on a hot day because they can't afford to buy a newspaper or pay for electricity to run an air conditioner. The library is a haven for those who want to sit quietly and drift into an imaginary world in their mind, inspired by a book.

The poor people of Robbins won't have that come Tuesday. They are the very people that Andrew Carnegie was thinking of when he set about donating his entire fortune to do good for the community. We need a new Andrew Carnegie.

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