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Here and There: A Library without books is like a pub with no beer

Posted on April 27, 2017 by Maple Creek

“Life is hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.” John Wayne is credited with saying this simple, yet profound statement.

Educating yourself is a way to combat stupidity and to have an easier life. Knowledge, learning and wisdom are important tools and libraries are places to acquire them. Fortunately, the Sask. Party reconsidered its decision to reduce funding to the province’s libraries, which had been symbolically burned in the government’s recent budget.

In his announcement April 24, Education Minister Don Morgan said, “We’re not afraid to admit we made a mistake on something.”

I’m glad to see the reversal because the consequences of the initial budget cuts, which were announced near the end of March, began to affect me last Wednesday. Up until then, the cuts had seemed detached from my daily life. I didn’t like many of the cost-saving measures, but they hadn’t touched me. Last Wednesday, they hit home.

I went to the library to borrow a few books and was confident I could order them if they weren’t on the shelf. This is because the previous book I ordered had been easy to request. I’d been wanting to read it since 2012, but unfortunately it’s been out of print for several decades and is hard to find in stores.
The book is called “The River and I”. It was written by John Neihardt in 1910 and tells the true story of how he tried to descend the Missouri River in 1908 by motorboat. In the narrative, Neihardt has nothing but problems because gas engines are still new technology and unreliable. The boat often refuses to start or it runs fine until it stops for seemingly no reason, sometimes for days. To complicate matters, there are no part stores or gas stations anywhere along the route. The infrastructure needed for motorized vehicles wasn’t built yet.

In what could possibly be considered fraud, Neihardt takes advantage of a moment when the boat was running well to trade with an unsuspecting man for a more reliable watercraft. Without so much as a moment’s regret, Neihardt then tries to complete his journey, but runs out of time before cold weather sets in and he has to stop far before reaching his destination.

Anyway, the book had to be ordered from Dalhousie University in Halifax and it took a few weeks to arrive, but no matter. I was impressed that it was available considering the distance and the fact I’m not a student at that institution.

Over the past few years, more and more libraries have been making interlibrary loans easier. Computers and the Internet as well as a shift in mentality about lending books outside of a library have made this possible – until the Sask. Party’s 2017 budget. The progress of years of integrating collections was thrown aside when budget cuts scrapped parts of the interlibrary loan program. In practical terms, this meant the books I ordered Wednesday would be difficult to obtain.

Showing sound judgment, the government undid the damage done to libraries, but I still have concerns. The budget also diminished other government services that existed before the current economic slump. Consider that the province had the money to pay for some services long before the boom years and now taxpayers are being left with less than what they’ve traditionally had.

Although the cuts to libraries have been reversed, at least for now, I still need to rant about the government’s thinking behind their original plan. First of all, it was stereotypical of what we’d expect from a place like Alabama or anywhere else where there’s a perception that reading or learning are somehow a bad idea.

Secondly, the lack of values and the hypocrisy of the decision didn’t sit well with me. No parent would tell their kids, “Learning doesn’t matter,” and yet the province’s elected leaders told the people of Saskatchewan, “We don’t value learning so we’re cutting libraries.”

Recently, I read the biographies of several members of the Sask. Party. Many of them are highly educated and obviously take learning seriously, whether in a library or a classroom. That being said, the initial budget cuts to libraries suggested some elected officials were less inclined to see taxpayers extended the same opportunities to learn. Jeez, I’m surprised how much of a socialist I sound like expressing that idea. It’s worrying.

The point I want to make isn’t political, it’s rational. We need libraries and we need to promote a culture of learning in our province. Libraries should be valued – not dismantled – because they provide us a place to explore, to wonder and to become a better version of ourselves.

I can’t think of many situations in life when knowing less is better; less uncomfortable, perhaps, but usually just in the short-term. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. That’s why libraries matter.

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