Economy & Budget

Paul Ryan: Listen to your voters, they value their libraries


An angry taxpayer called Wisconsin Public Radio on Take Action for Libraries Day as I appeared on the Joy Cardin Show on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The form she needed was not in the booklet she’d received. She called her branch library, which made the copy for free and allowed her to send in her tax payment on time.

During the hour, listeners shared how many ways libraries are such a good investment that the federal government should increase the $230 million it currently provides, instead of zeroing out that funding as Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI and the Trump administration favor.

On Take Action For Libraries Day, write Speaker Ryan or call him to say libraries are the best investment society can make.

{mosads}Another small library in Wisconsin just finished an eight-hour class on distinguishing fact from fiction. It was that very point I made in my earlier commentary.   Libraries are the essential place where truth can be discerned from a variety of sources.  Although many resources are online, it is important for citizens to be able to assess potential biases and conflicts of interest–skills that librarians are trained to perform.


I gave the example of a dairy farmer, in need of information about a potential viral infection, who can call a branch library without having to leave his responsibilities.  Lines were full for an entire hour as more viewers called in to discuss how important libraries are for them.

These cherished community institutions are the canary in the coal mine for an aggressive effort led by Speaker Ryan to eliminate every federal agency which provides direct service to individual people and families.  Today, it’s the branch library in a small Great Lakes village.  Tomorrow, it’s your Social Security.

So, I suggested that it is the philosophy of nihilism which should be opposed by the citizenry.

In 1332, Mansa Musa, the ruler of Mali, a West African empire two and half times the size of the United States, travelled to Mecca with 70,000 warriors and so much gold that he depressed the world price through his gifts along the way. He is regarded as the richest man in history with an estimated net worth of $400 billion in current dollars–enough to buy out Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim. But 800 years later, he is most remembered for the libraries of hundreds of thousands of manuscripts covering every subject known to society at the time. The people of cities like Timbuktu, Gao and Djenne have preserved those manuscripts through successive foreign invasions.

Likewise, Andrew Carnegie was among the richest men of the 19th century. He is most remembered for the libraries that he supported in cities across the country. Few recall what he did to become rich.

In the caves of the earliest dwellings, it is the art which survives.

The definition of our species, Homo sapiens, indicates that knowledge is what separates us from the other apes. We can’t compete on strength, ferocity or speed with other apes. That small library in Wisconsin that shows how to discriminate in favor of truth is advancing the evolution of the species.

A number of callers agreed the attack on libraries with budgetary cruise missiles is politically motivated to limit the information choices of people in small towns and rural communities.   Where cable and satellite networks don’t reach, libraries are often the only place to connect with online resources.

Speaker Ryan’s call to defund libraries defies history, nature and logic. Using the original example, I wondered to the audience: How many more IRS offices would we need if we didn’t have libraries?

John William Templeton is a library laureate of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and history advisor to the Songhay People of West Africa. His latest book is Road to Ratification: How 27 States Tackled the Most Challenging Issue in American History. He is former editor of the San Jose Business Journal, Richmond Business Journal, Richmond Afro-American and Winston-Salem Chronicle. His work has appeared in Today’s Engineer and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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