Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vote for knowledge

The librarians are all keeping their fingers crossed, but I don’t want to believe that the people of Hampshire County will vote against knowledge, and for ignorance, in next week’s library levy.

After all, there is a tradition of respect for knowledge in this county that goes back to the early 19th century, when the Romney Literary Society was formed. In many respects, Romney is centered around a learning institution, the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, and that creates a local atmosphere that recognizes the importance of learning and knowledge. And the fact that West Virginia’s oldest newspaper, the Hampshire Review, is still vibrant and publishing in Romney, is a testament to the importance of reading in Hampshire County’s local culture.

That’s why so many of my conservative friends, who are by nature traditionalists, are supporting the library levy. This is an issue that crosses partisan lines. For thinking people on both the left and right, knowledge, and the spread of knowledge, are important.

Of course, this is not a universal opinion—which is why the librarians are worried. The levy needs 60 percent of the vote to pass, and some people, perhaps justifiably tired of paying for “government,” have lost their sense of any notion of the “common good”—another overlooked great American tradition—or are merely ignorant of all the good that the library does, and how central the library is in the life of this community.

Let me be clear: by “ignorant,” I don’t mean stupid. I mean the literal meaning of the term, from the Greek language: “without knowledge.” (The Greek word for “knowledge” is “gnosis.”) Some very smart people can be extremely ignorant, if they don’t even look at the information necessary to inform their voting decisions. Someone who doesn’t use the library hasn’t seen, as I have, the mothers lined up with their pre-school kids at the checkout desk, with a pile of childrens’ books that they may not be able to afford to buy themselves, but giving those kids a parental head start on their reading education. Or they haven’t seen students whose rural isolation or economic circumstances may not provide them high-speed internet, but whose needs keep just about every library computer terminal filled almost every time I go in there.

This is the future of America we’re talking about here. There is no democracy without an informed citizenry. And if those kids need that library—and in this economic environment, can there even be a fraction of doubt that they do?—then by God, it is our responsibility as citizens to make sure that the library stays open.

Vote for the library levy on Tuesday. Vote for knowledge, and against ignorance.

- Michael Hasty

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