Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Librarians, Budget Cuts, Assumptions

As a response to a rash of budget slashing to public libraries, Wil Wheaton posted about how he thinks librarians are awesome. It's hard to argue with that premise; libraries and librarians are, indeed, awesome, and you'd be a fool to say otherwise. Who among us reader-types doesn't have a heart-warming memory of libraries and librarians, like Mr. Wheaton? It's part of why we became readers in the first place. Good for Mr. Wheaton for staking a controversial claim.

But then Mr. Wheaton spoils a perfectly lovely remembrance by ending it with this bit of straw man nastiness:
Libraries are constantly under attack from people who fear knowledge, politicians who think guns are more important than books, and people who want to ensure that multi-millionaires pocket even more money.

Ah, of course. The culprits to these budgets cuts are obvious. Knowledge fearing people, gun-clinging politicians, greedy millionaires. The usual suspects. It's so obvious.

Only it's not so obvious. Mr. Wheaton offers no proof of his assertion because I guess it just pretty much goes without saying: anyone who wants to cut library funding must be evil and conservative and not good and liberal like, say, Mr. Wheaton himself. There's just nothing left to say. Which is fine; it's Mr. Wheaton's blog, after all, and he can say anything he wants bno matter how ridiculous and without proof. That's the way blogs work.

His commenters are quick to agree on the subject of librarian awesomeness - and quite a few let Mr. Wheaton know how awesome he is for thinking librarians are awesome - and barely pay attention to his claims about the causes of library extinction. Maybe it's a given for them, too. I clicked through to some of the links posted by the commenters to other articles that bemoan the demise of libraries and nowhere did I see anything about knowledge-fearing, gun-clinging, tax-dodging people and politicians being behind this flurry of budget cuts. In fact, in Mr. Wheaton's own California, the culprit is the recently elected liberal Jerry Brown. And in Los Angeles, no one must be behind library budget cuts because the mayor and a good chunk of the city council have thrown their support behind Measure L, which, if passed, will give libraries a bigger guaranteed chunk of the city's general fund. (An increase from .0175 to .03 share of the general fund may seem minuscule but that's a 170% increase; you wouldn't turn down a 170% increase in your salary, would you? Didn't think so.) I guess that means the mayor and city council are powerless to stop these budget cuts without a vote of the people. If true, exactly what role do Los Angeles elected officials have to play in the spending process? What do they do, exactly?

I clicked on through to some of the related articles and learned this about library budget cuts. Hey, things are tough all over! Who knew?

I make a brief appearance in the comments pointing this out and Mr. Wheaton was kind enough to rejoin that the problems aren't limited to Los Angeles and California, completely ignoring my point. I countered that likely what holds true for Los Angeles and California holds true for the other areas quoted in the linked articles, that budgetary crunches call for cuts across the board and politicians of all stripes are likely behind them. Mr. Wheaton leaves that alone, content, I suppose, to continue to believe the narrative that all bad things come from stupid people and all good things come from people like him.

I'm not advocating budget cuts for libraries. I, too, think libraries - and librarians! - are awesome. Government should do what only government should do and maintaining a library system accessible to all seems like a role for government. (Though the Internet fills at least part of a library's role quite nicely without government intervention.) (And could we do with a little less easy access to porn, libraries? Keep the experience more family-friendly? I mean, I know all about the 1st amendment and everything but come on. Show some judgement.) But budgets are tight, spending has to be cut, and it all finally comes down to whose ox is being gored. If you don't cut library budgets, what do you cut? Police and fire protection? Sanitation? Road maintenance?

Government budget cuts mean tough choices. That's what politicians are elected for; that's the democratic process. Don't like it? Vote someone else in who'll do the job you want. But leave the straw men aside. That doesn't help.

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