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Kindle Unlimited

September 22, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, we paused our discussion of a “devil’s advocate” proposal from a Forbes columnist that we replace public libraries with subscriptions. At that time, we noted the insufficiency of Kindle Unlimited compared with library collections.

But what is the purpose of the public library? I like a phrase of Jamie LaRue’s, former director of Douglas County Libraries: “to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.”

These days, neither Kindle Unlimited nor public libraries can live up to that statement. Kindle “Unlimited” is remarkably limited, being merely large in an enormous universe, as well as failing to offer much of the newest and most popular literature. Libraries are in a similar boat with digital content, being locked out of much of the market.

In fulfilling Mr. LaRue’s statement above, public libraries act as a cooperative purchasing project, so that we all share the cost of, and use of, a public collection sampling the intellectual content of our culture. By participating in the Marmot and Prospector library networks, Salida Regional Library greatly enlarges its collection.

But that’s not all! Public libraries are a major source of support for pre-Kindergarten education. I shall quote Mr. LaRue again on a favorite study of his: “500 books in the home of a child 0-5, regardless of the educational level or income of the parents, is as good as having two parents with master’s degrees.”

How many of us ever had two master’s degrees and 500 children’s books at home? But anyone of any socio-economic circumstance can provide his or her children access to 500 and more books in their first five years of life by using the public library.

These kinds of studies improve early childhood education, with profound consequences for the future. The secret will not be found in computer programs, or more testing, or specially structured environments. It is found in reading stories—lots of them. This kind of live communication between adults and children stimulates brain development, develops empathy, promotes a host of happy, healthy effects.

And while we’re on the subject, Salida Regional Library is one of nine libraries that will participate in a pilot project to develop services supporting early childhood education based on findings such as these.

Libraries are more than cooperative purchasing projects and more than even this profoundly important aspect of early childhood education. More than cost sharing, public libraries are about sharing a vision for civic life. Public libraries are the embodiment of the idea that we all have equal access to our heritage and our future.

It’s a collective agreement, similar to, say, the right to freedom of speech. If as a good American you support freedom of speech, “you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with” (to quote comedian Bill Hicks). And, as good Americans, they support your right to do the same.

Each of us individually can claim our rights and demand our rights, but it’s only collectively that we protect and preserve them. This is true of many aspects of civic life. Public libraries are a mainstay of American civic life, with important roles for the future.

Not the least of which is the used book sale, of course. Salida Regional Library’s next sale will be Saturday, October 4^th , from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Exercise your right to buy books.

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