Libraries vs. Criminals

Look. I'm one of those bloggers who decorates his posts with generic book stack images!

Look. I’m one of those bloggers who decorates his posts with generic book stack images!

How to tell if you live in a good neighborhood: Type the name of your county into the Google search box and see what autofills.

The very first autofill for my county is “… library system.” I’m gratified by that result, which is a preferable one to “… crime statistics” or “… murder rate” or “… piranha attacks on land.” Our county has 10 libraries, which sounds like a lot, but with a population of 325,000, that’s over 30,000 people per library. Still, it’s the number one thing on people’s minds when they do a Google search. Either our serial killers are remarkably discrete and our land piranhas travel out of the area to feed, or the people around here a generally good lot who would rather read books than steal cars.

See, libraries fight crime.

No one but the dumbest of criminals would try to rob a library, because there’s no cash on hand (unless you consider not paying late fees to be a form of backhanded robbery). Not a single library in the United States or Canada has ever lowered nearby property values. And I’ve never heard of a kid who didn’t enjoy going to a public library. In the kids’ section of my local branch, you’ll always find at least one starry-eyed child wandering up and down the rows, dazzled by all the choices.

You know where there are not a lot of libraries? Crime-ridden towns. People and governments give up on crime-ridden towns because giving up is easier than fixing. Libraries in poor towns are amongst the first things to be chopped in budget-cutting sessions. Those kids don’t get to wander up and down the free (!) library, gazing in wonder anymore. Maybe they can hang out on the street corner instead.

You know, if everyone in my county tossed in 20 bucks, we’d have 6.5 million dollars. Surely that’s enough to keep one library in one rough town somewhere opened for at least a year or two. Is that so appalling, giving up 20 dollars to invest in someone else’s future?

One of my local libraries. It looks dangerous, but it's kinda nice on the inside.

One of my local libraries. It looks dangerous, but it’s kinda nice on the inside.

Note: The median household income in my town (a postage stamp on the large envelope that is my county) is $120,000. If you took my 510-unit apartment complex out of the mix, you’d probably see that figure rise to 200K or more. I know the property tax burden is high. It’s expensive to live here. I also see as many late-model Audis, BMWs, and Benzes crowding the streets as I do Hyundais and Chevys. How about it, folks? Why the outrage over helping feed poor kids?


35 responses to “Libraries vs. Criminals

  • M. R.

    Hey, I’m with you on libraries, EJ … My first two jobs out of school were working in them: #1 a public library and #2 a teachers’ college library, and I loved both. If you were to spend a moment or two on my site, looking at a Page called ‘Events’, you’d see why I like them still! 🙂

  • Eric Tonningsen

    Eric, doesn’t NJ have a bit of a track record re: management of tax revenues running from the municipal to the state level? Has Mr. Christie lowered those property taxes yet? If you could find a way to collect the $20/head and earmark it exclusively for library development, I suspect you’d have a considerable number of contributors. Absent that dedicated use commitment and having lived in the Garden State, I’d give pause to your laudable initiative.

    Then again, I could go to PetSmart and buy myself a couple of piranhas :).

    • ericjbaker

      I wish I were interested enough in the minutiae of state funding to have a good answer. All I know is, the poorest towns in NJ are losing libraries, but all I hear is people calling the poor “takers.” When did that paradigm shift occur in which Ebeneezer Scrooge became a heroic figure?

      Tip for piranha care: Keep them away from any toxic waste that glows green. You won’t like the results…

  • change it up editing

    I typed my county’s name into Google: after three letters, the name of the local newspaper came up followed by the college, the library, and finally the county itself. There is a substantial “mature” population here (it’s Florida–do the math), but at least we have a decent library system. And high property taxes. And many, many luxury cars. And an attitude of “I paid for all those things when I lived up north so I don’t want to be taxed again.” Frustrating.

  • nrhatch

    Libraries -> wide eyed wonder! Far better than having kids hanging around pool halls creating trouble in river city.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I love everything about this post, Eric. Great post! Libraries play such an important role in our communities, why can’t people realize this…sigh.

    When I did a Google search on my county, after Wikipedia, sadly, this is what appeared: Union County calls on state for probe of handcuffed child case.

    Yes, I live in the county where a social service worker, making over 60K per year and her emergency room RN husband, handcuffed their adoptive child to the front porch and tied a dead chicken around his neck. What is wrong with people?

    • ericjbaker

      Answering your (understood to be rhetorical) question would require a bit more space than is afforded in the comment’s section. The fact is, though, this kind of behavior has been happening all along; it’s only more widely reported now thanks to the information superhighway. The good news is that we are more outraged by it than we would have been in the past. By “we’ I mean society.

  • Kevin Brennan

    Right on. What a civilizing influence libraries are, and how important in getting kids to read.

    By the way, the library is high on the autofill of my county, but, disturbingly, about fifth on the list is “sonoma chicken coop.” I’m stumped.

    • ericjbaker

      I want to facepalm when I hear people scoff at the idea of going to art museums or performing-arts centers or even reading books. “It’s waste of time,” and “it’s impractical.”

      It’s also the thing that separates us from the other organisms and represents the best of what we are. Nothing critical, though.

  • 1WriteWay

    Great post, Eric. Libraries are the best places for a kid to hang out. When I was growing up, I practically lived at my town’s library in the summertime. A lot of fond memories, and it definitely kept me out of trouble 🙂 I also believe that there should be outrage that we have any children going hungry in this country. It often seems like the more money people make, the less they are willing to part with it, no matter how much good it might do.

    • ericjbaker

      Some don’t seem to understand that investing in children’s health and education benefits everyone. “Me first” and “Every man for himself” are not sustainable models for a thriving society. This isn’t the freaking middle ages with serfs and lords.

  • Dave

    Thoughtful post, Eric. Sad to see libraries disappear from those communities that could benefit from them the most. Speaking of libraries … when I was a young child, I was a voracious reader. Loved, loved books and couldn’t get enough of them. So where did I go? Why of course I went to the bookmobile 🙂 Am I dating myself here? Anyway, I looked forward to that van showing up every week just so I could scan through all the books they had (and to a small child, it was huge).

    Oh, the only entries that showed up in Google for me were for the local community college, high schools and college online. Apparently there’s a lot of educating going on here.

    • Jill Weatherholt

      Oh Dave, I loved the bookmobile! It only came to our neighborhood in the summer, but it was my favorite place. And it did look huge! I wrote a blog post about it sometime ago. Sorry for butting into your conversation, but I so loved the bookmobile. 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      I remember that post, Jill. I had commented on the rolling bookstore that came through a few times a year. I loved hoping into that trailer with my 5 bucks and walking out with a cool science book on planets or insects.

      I still read that stuff, albeit geared for grown-ups. I’m reading a book on the demotion of Pluto right now, in fact. Fun tidbit: In the world of astronomy, the asteroid Ceres had a longer life as a planet (100 years) than did Pluto (about 80 years). For most of the 19th century, Ceres was the ninth planet (or fifth, if you are counting distance from the sun).

  • Paula Tohline Calhoun

    Eric, it is a sad truth that towns that are cutting down and/or wrecking-ball the libraries appear to be doing it because of computers and tablets. I mean EVERYONE has a computer, don’t they? The places where people can flip through books, sit in quiet, etc. – all for free – are being taken from the ones who can’t afford to buy computers or tablets, and who are losing out on having a library to roam around in. We as a nation have the highest number of people in prison – not just per capita, I mean in total ,than any other country in the world.. BUMBERSHOOT! We could populate several small countries with the number of prisoners we have, and what a fine job we are doing in rehabilitating our prison population. Unless one considers teaching criminals how to be better at it and more cruel – we’re aces at that!

    Of course then we could go on to what a swell job we’re doing taking care of the sick. We had to go into bankruptcy before the Conference we were a part of realized that maybe the insurance plan we had wasn’t adequate. Yes – we had insurance!!! (They did change policies and all!, and now we only have to choose occasionally between food, clothes, or medicine. The thing is, we are very fortunate. I would put out more than $20 for the sake of libraries, and then employ librarians who do more than run a UPC code under an IR light scanner. Librarians – good ones – are quickly fading from the demographic map, and they are probably among the best teachers one can get, because they teach people how to find out for themselves what they want to know.

    Wll, I’ve roamed around a bit too much, as usual, but this post of yours is right on! Moocow and all!


    • ericjbaker

      The poor are becoming increasingly marginalized and invisible (going back to the way it was in the 19th century and earlier). I’m not justifying crime, but when your choice is no job or income whatsoever, or selling drugs, why are we surprised at the choices people make? Especially people who already think they have no future.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, PTC.

  • livelytwist

    Loved this post. It doesn’t take a lot to help out… I loved libraries as a child and I still love libraries today- I am the starry-eyed adult wandering up and down the rows, dazzled by all the choices.

  • S.D. Kreuz

    Great idea. I googled my country and ended up with the postal service, superannuation and most importantly taxes!

  • Janna G. Noelle

    I too loved the library as a child, and still do (as a writer of historical fiction, you’d better believe I do!) They are focal points of the community and bastions of equal-access learning. Even if the rise of the internet age ends up transforming libraries into something unlike we’ve ever seen before, I don’t believe we should be so quick to abandon the concept of free and publicly owned/operated knowledge centers.

    Nor do I believe we should be so eager to rely solely on digitized versions of texts, especially historical ones. I recently heard on a radio program about how an archivist in England brought out for display some constitutional book of documents from a bygone century, and the text was still in very good condition and fully readable. The point he was trying to make – that since the advent of print, every subsequent advance in data preservation technology has required an increasingly shorter duration between upgrades to the newest storage method. Remember the 5 1/4 floppy? The mini disk?

    • ericjbaker

      Plus, hard copies are easy to find when you aren’t looking for something. That is, no one searches text digitally with: Show me something random that will catch my attention. Amazon tries, but only your brain knows, intuitively, that that title just on the edge of your peripheral vision needs to be picked up and read.

      • Janna G. Noelle

        You just described the way I do a lot of research: I search the library catalogue for a few titles to figure out what the correct Dewey section is, then I just browse the shelves to see what jumps out at me.

  • shelleyhazen83

    I think “welfare statistics” autofill when I type in my county (Franklin, in New York). Our median income is $40,000 and those people are the lucky ones. My town doesn’t have a library, but only 3,000 people live here. Luckily, there are dozens upon dozens of them within driving distance, my county and those surrounding it are some of the poorest in the state, but I don’t recall any of them being in threat of closing. Although, I’m sure we’re not the poorest of the poor. All the same – all hail libraries!! I love mine and I have TWO library cards! 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      I live right on the edge of my county, so some of the next county’s libraries are closer. I’m not a resident so I can’t get a card. Damn it, 10 libraries isn’t enough!!!

      Let me apologize if it looked like I was bragging about how rich every one is around here. I live in an apartment complex that was plunked down in the middle of an extremely wealthy township (not sure why the locals let it be built, unless it lowered property taxes). When my upscale neighbors ask me where I live (usually in the course of a conversation at a school event or something), i often get the awkward “Oh. That’s nice,” followed by the half turn-away. We’re only here for access to the schools. Lord knows, there are cheaper places to live nearby.

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