In Praise of Public Libraries

Years ago, I lived in a remote mountain town that had never had a public library. The town was one of the largest in New York State by area but small in population, with a couple thousand residents spread out over about two hundred square miles. By the time my husband and I moved there, the town had lost most of its economic base—in the nineteenth century it had supported a number of tanneries and mills—and our neighbors were mainly employed seasonally, if at all. When the regional library system’s bookmobile was taken out of service, the town had no easy access to books. The town board proposed a small tax increase to fund a library, something on the order of ten dollars per household. It was soundly defeated. The dominant sentiments seemed to be “leave well enough alone” and “who needs books?”

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