I probably hadn’t heard the phrase “food desert” until I saw this commercial late last year.
I knew that millions of people were not in a position to consistently eat well and provide their families with healthier food options, but the image provided by that metaphor somehow conveyed how dire the situation is in a way that nothing else had.
Funny how that happens.
Funny how there’s almost always a straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Something small. Something simple.
And it’s frankly kind of amazing how much stuff can pile up on said camel’s back before that all-important straw finally does its job.
For example, I know that libraries – public and school – face a lot of hurdles in their mission to bring books and culture (and a wide, wide range of services) to their communities.
I know this because of the Book Riot contributors who are also librarians, the hurdle-jumpers who are always there to report on the fantastic things happening at their (and other) branches.
I know this because of the many other Rioters who frequent and adore their own local libraries, who also love to find and share stories about the dedication of librarians and the power and reach of the places themselves.
I know this because I’ve seen Mrs. Stevens, the librarian at the high school where I teach, split her time between two schools (because the position has been cut to half-time in both schools), find creative ways to use her book budget (because it has been reduced to a pittance), and strive to make our library (now renamed the “Media Center”) a relevant and thriving organ within our school. She’s clearing hurdles like it’s her job (which, unfortunately, at this point, it kind of is). I talk with her pretty frequently about what she’s reading and which books are catching the kids’ interest. You should see the look on her face when she’s found a new book that she knows the students are going to love.
What I’ve read and what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen should have been enough for me to get mad and stay mad about the increasingly frequent dismissals of libraries’ small- and large-scale importance.
But it hasn’t been.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m consistently frustrated by every dismissive, ignorant position adopted on the subject of libraries by people with unfortunate amounts of power. But that frustration has always been buoyed by the work of the incredible individuals who, when faced with budget cuts and closures, find creative ways to keep their libraries performing a wide range of services for a wide variety of people.
In a lot of ways, my attitude is unfair to those librarians and library workers and library advocates because it excuses me from having to say or do anything to change the uphill battle many of them are fighting. As a teacher, I should know better. Few things are more annoying than being patted on the head for a job well done while the people doing the patting make the job even harder to do.
Which brings me to the straw.
To the big, fat straw that is the budget proposal put forth by Representative Paul Ryan. The budget proposal which would cut the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent agency which provides significant funding to museums and libraries (you know, those pesky centers of knowledge, literacy, and culture that we have such an excess of) across the country.
Listen, I’m not stupid enough to argue that the job of reducing deficits and balancing spending is simple. But reading about the myriad ways in which the IMLS serves people (in, as far as I can tell, an almost entirely apolitical fashion), including Ryan’s own constituents, is enough to make me feel like reducing citizens’ access to books, newspapers, and the internet is not a wise move for the intellectual health of the country.
The American Library Association has responded eloquently and pointedly to the proposal. I can’t think of a group better suited to point out the potential effects of shuttering the IMLS. And reading about those effects made me think of something. Something that seems unrelated, but only for a second.
It made me think of food deserts.
It made me think about access and responsibility and the good of the people who will suffer if more of our libraries and their services are reduced or eradicated.
That’s what they would be called, these places where people have no car and no easy access to books. Where the literacy and learning opportunities that libraries afford students during the summer, when, studies show, student learning can regress significantly, would vanish. Where job-seeking and even job-training would no longer take place. Where millions would no longer have reliable internet access.
Book desert doesn’t even really cover it, does it?
This is the straw.
Get mad. Stay mad.
If you’re in Paul Ryan’s congressional district (Wisconsin 1st), then give him a call.
Keep libraries open and operating in your community and those across the country.
Because by the time we see a commercial about book deserts, it’ll be too late.