A few weeks ago we discussed Google’s plan to digitally scan large portions of some of the most prestigious library inventories in order to make those texts searchable and available online. This does seem to increase access to some important literary works and information, but the limiting factor would still be online access itself. While it seems like everyone is online these days, there are still a lot of people who don’t have internet access and many who do often rely on computers in public libraries, schools or community centers.
Around the same time Google made its announcement, the town of Salinas, California — birthplace of John Steinbeck — announced that its three libraries are forced to close due to budget cuts and a slow local economy. Since this news was first reported, there have been many editorials and commentaries around the world noting the irony and expressing outrage at this decision to shutter libraries in a town that gave us a literary giant like Steinbeck. It would be easy to join in and judge the political process and budget decisions that resulted in this blow to the community. It might be easy to blame the voters and citizens of Salinas as well, but unfortunately this is a trend in many smaller towns and communities. Many libraries and public organizations have had to reduce their hours and cut the amount of services they offer to survive at all. To focus on the problem in Salinas alone would be ignoring a larger issue.
What importance do we place on literature, literacy and information in our society? Both locally and as a whole — we talk the talk, but are we walking the walk? As members of LitKicks, we obviously give a great measure of importance to this part of life, however many of us have probably been very fortunate to have access to education, mentors and friends who have passed along a love for reading and knowledge — not to mention access to the vast amounts of information now available online. In promoting literacy and knowledge, where does the responsibility lie? Solely with governmental and public organizations? Private initiatives and charities? Individual contributions and volunteers? What do you think about these issues? What is the situation in your local community — are there resources available for everyone? Do you use the libraries and resources in your town? Do you support them?
I think we all hold a stake in the literacy of society — not only for ourselves and our children, but for better communities and environments where we live. It could be seen as just a small thing, yet such a small thing can have big consequences.