If there’s still room on the list of “things I didn’t go to library school to do,” I’d like to add riding a bookcycle around town. Special training in peddling a heavy bicycle isn’t something they should add to the library school curriculum.
But that’s at least a realistic way to get library services out to people who might need them, especially those children who don’t read over the summer and fall behind.
If only all those children were being sent to enriching summer camps. That’s what rich people do for their children, after all.
What rich people aren’t doing much of these days is giving money to libraries, but at least one person thinks they should.
Here’s a not-so-modest proposal for the 400 richest Americans (together worth over $2-trillion, or more than the entire bottom half of our population).
Work toward a national digital library endowment to modernize Andrew Carnegie’s vision of giving the brightest the tools to rise to the top.
Something tells me this isn’t going to be very persuasive.
For one thing, the request itself is different, because Carnegie wasn’t just handing money away. “Carnegie asked cities and towns to pay for the upkeep and other continuing needs of the libraries he financed, but today’s America is different. Local governments have cut back.”
So the proposal is for the super rich to fund some sort of digital library when even the communities that people live in won’t fund libraries.
Carnegie might have been on to something. If communities had to pay something themselves, that gave them a sense of ownership and an incentive to keep supporting the libraries. If communities gave up on themselves, Carnegie would give up on them.
The oddest part of the request is to “modernize Andrew Carnegie’s vision of giving the brightest the tools to rise to the top.”
Something tells me the super rich already think that’s happened.
We live in a meritocracy, so the story goes, and in a meritocracy the ones with the most merit are the best and they rise to the top. The super rich are at the top. Thus, they must have the most merit. The brightest have thus risen to the top. Problem solved.
Just ask investment bankers or tech billionaires whether they deserve to be at the top. Of course they do!
That means, of course, that all of us not at the top don’t deserve to be, and that those of us on the bottom deserve that, too. Those without merit deserve to be at the bottom. Ask them, and they might be dispirited enough to agree.
Thus, it might be hard to get the richest 400 Americans to give anything when they deserve all they have.
There’s another problem with this suggestion, though. When Carnegie was handing out money to libraries, the idea of society as a whole making sure everyone got an opportunity to succeed, or at least not fail miserably and die in squalor, didn’t have a lot of believers in America.
In the meantime America changed a lot. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, various welfare programs for the poor and for children, all these came along. Even public libraries were part of this, and communities funded them for the good of everyone.
So getting a handful of super rich people to fund things that for most of the last century we agreed should be publicly funded is a big step backward.
Libraries and schools are either public goods or they’re not. People deserve fair opportunities for education in life or they don’t.
Publicly funding libraries is a way of saying they’re public goods and people deserve some fair opportunities for education.
Begging charity from the super rich is a way of saying they’re niceties and that opportunities are alms for the super rich to dole out to the bottom half when they feel like it.
Carnegie’s contribution to American libraries was significant in its time because the idea that everyone should have the educational tools to succeed was a relatively new idea.
But now it’s an old idea, and an idea that a lot of Americans are abandoning. Trying to get the super rich to give alms to some poor people rather than paying more taxes is just an admission that Americans in general don’t care about the opportunities of anyone but them and theirs.
And it’s not going to solve any long term problems for libraries.