Here's another one to irritate people. Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Jackson County, OR, which is closing its entire library system because of a lack of funding. Despite my own criticisms of particular areas of public librarianship and, for that matter, particular areas of the country, I too wish these libraries could remain open. Rural folks have it hard enough, what with having to live in the middle of nowhere and all. Take away their libraries, and there's nothing left of civilization but the McDonald's and the local bowling alley. I am in favor of the libraries remaining open, and I do think the lives of Jackson County will be impoverished somehow without libraries. But what a strange story.
I haven't paid any attention to what other library bloggers are saying about this. I'm sure everyone agrees it's bad. The only cause I've seen named is "Federal budget cuts," but that's the easy and shallow answer. One person quoted claimed the Federal government lied because Teddy Roosevelt took the land and the Feds were supposed to keep paying Oregon for it. That doesn't seem to be entirely accurate, according to the article. Teddy took the land, but the deal was to pay Oregon a portion of the timber profits from logging the land. For decades the Jackson Countians did quite well out of the deal.
But now no one's logging, and there are no profits. The Feds have been bailing out this rural county for six years, but not any more. As much as I think libraries are, or at least should be, important to Jackson County, I don't support the US Government paying to keep this county running. Perhaps they should give the land back to Oregon, but there's no reason why anyone outside of Oregon should subsidize a county government that can't sustain itself. The citizens themselves voted down a property tax increase last November to keep the libraries open. They have another chance to vote in May. Their future has to be in their own hands. And there are projects more important to the nation as a whole than whether one county closes its libraries.
But the thing I was most struck with was why the logging, and therefore the money, stopped. According to the article, "the good times petered out in the early 1990s, when the northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, all but shutting down large-scale logging." So the environmentalists are responsible for shutting down the Jackson County libraries.
Before you start accusing me of bashing all environmentalists, I'll note for the record that I myself am some sort of environmentalist. I support the conservation of public land. I am concerned about the long term degradation of our environment and the danger it poses for our future. I support efforts to address environmental concerns. I'm certainly not what you would call a "tree hugger," if for no other reason than I like the idea of trees but don't particularly want to be out among them unless they're in a well kept park. But I am some sort of environmentalist.
I do care about the environment as a whole and its effect on human life. What I don't care about is the spotted owl, or any other individual endangered species, unless it's a species absolutely necessary to the food chain that ultimately leads up to human beings. This is where I part company with many versions of the environmentalist movement. I've never seen a spotted owl, I don't care if I ever see one, and if they all die off it won't bother me a bit. Same with all the other bugs and snakes and toads and whatever else is on the "endangered species" list. The only endangered species I care about is my own, and even that one I'm not so sure about sometimes.
But many environmentalists don't care about human beings, and what we get are public libraries closing. Logging can be a sustainable enterprise as long as it isn't logging old growth forests. Logging isn't necessarily going to destroy anyone. It might destroy the spotted owl, but if I have to choose spotted owls or public libraries, I'd choose public libraries. If I had to choose spotted owls or people, I'd choose people. Many environmentalists have made their choice. They prefer the spotted owl to people. That's why it's more important to them to save the owl than to save the libraries. I know they probably didn't think about that when they lobbied to save the spotted owl, but it seems to me a completely understandable, if unintentional, consequence of choosing the owls in Jackson County over the people of Jackson County. They didn't plan to close the libraries, but they knew the local economy would be significantly harmed, and they didn't care. Saving the spotted owl is not like reducing greenhouse gases. The extinction of the spotted owl isn't going to mean the extinction of the human race or the potential for disasters because of global warming.
You might be thinking, why can't we have both? Why not the spotted owl and the libraries? Because that's not the way it works. You have to make choices, and once you choose the owl over people, you have to live with those choices. The choice turned out to be between the spotted owl and libraries, and many environmentalists chose the spotted owl, and they still would if given the choice again. Jackson County made the choice between police services and libraries. They chose police services. I'd say Jackson County made a wiser choice than the environmentalists, but their difficult choice was necessary because the environmentalists chose the spotted owl over people.
And if the people of Jackson County vote down supporting their own library system this year, perhaps because it's just not affordable, things will be harder for a lot of people and their lives will be made worse in ways they probably won't even think about. But they'll have this comfort--now that they can't waste time in the public libraries, they can go out into the woods and watch the spotted owls.