As a magazine editor, I realize that it’s not a stretch to believe me when I say that reading is an important skill. My job, both in the present and the future, depends on the ability of our readers. Therefore, it’s in my best interest to promote literacy at every possible chance, kinda like a mechanic teaching a driver’s ed course. A little career preservation goes a long way.
So believe me when I say that when I heard the news that Lake County might close two of its library branches, my first thought wasn’t about how Lake & Sumter Style’s readership might be affected in the long run. No, my initial thoughts were of the thousands of kids and adults who would be denied access to the ever-important Information Age. According to a 2009 Census Bureau report, 38 percent of American homes do not have Internet access, and that figure is even higher in rural areas. So while we surf the high-speed World Wide Web at ever-faster speeds, these folks—those who need it the most—would most likely be left in the dust.
Big deal, right?
Well, yeah, it is. The small New England town I grew up in had all the features to make any chamber of commerce drool—picturesque homes, a neighborhood school, and a convenient library. All that was missing was classical music piped in over the loudspeakers. I spent long afternoons in the ball fields, at my friends’ homes down the street, and in the library. I must’ve read every Hardy Boys mystery the shelves contained.
When we moved to Central Florida, though, we chose a remote section near Lake Weir. There was no library. In fact, there wasn’t much of anything there, so when the bookmobile made its rounds to our neck of the woods, the cramped, slightly used bus was our lifeline to a larger world.
Books mattered then. And they still matter now—even more so.
Would that bus have wireless access now? Would it have banks of computers to help me write my first research papers? Would it have dozens of current newspapers and magazines, titles my parents didn’t subscribe to? Probably not. But libraries—permanent structures that amplify a community—do.
So when I heard that the county commissioners were considering shuttering two libraries in remote areas of the county—East Lake County Library in Sorrento and Marion Baysinger Memorial Library in Groveland, to be specific—I almost didn’t believe the news. These types of cuts always happen to the outlying areas because their political clout is usually weaker than their in-town counterparts. If you’re a politician, it makes sense to affect the people who won’t vote for your opponent in the next election. I understand that.
But these communities need good libraries even more. Access to knowledge, whether virtually or in print, is literally the difference between a good life and a great life, an okay job and an exceptional one.
So why pick on these two libraries? Well, to save nearly $600,000 according to a recent article in the Lake Sentinel. But why not share that burden over all the current infrastructure projects and all the public libraries? Why not close Lake County libraries on their slowest days or trim a few weekday hours here and there? Why make Sorrento and Groveland alone bear this enormous burden?
Why? Because the few folks who cast the deciding votes are betting that they won’t say a word or send an e-mail. One thing’s certain—if their libraries are taken away, many won’t be able to.
All my best,
Want To Do Something?
Go to lakecountyfl.gov to e-mail your commissioner.