How today’s libraries are empowering minorities, the poor and the persecuted

By Edwin Crayton/Opinion

Why do dictators often burn books first? Why did slave masters try to prevent their slaves from reading—not even letting them read the Bible? Why are the books of freedom fighters and theologians usually banned by repressive regimes? Why are journalists frequently assassinated by corrupt leaders seeking to hide their nasty deeds? You guessed it. It’s because those who seek to enslave people or deny the rights of the masses realize that knowledge really is power. And in today’s information age, that is actually truer than it has ever been.  This simple fact is also one main reason, strong libraries have become an essential tool in building a thriving, competitive democracy.

If like me, you spend a good deal of time inside libraries, you already know that local libraries today are more than just stacks of musty old books overseen by matronly ladies who whisper “Shh!” to anyone who speaks above a whisper.  Libraries today have evolved into intellectual community centers that serve as employment agencies where people look for jobs online, write resumes, fill out applications or scan documents, emailing them to their new employer. From Shreveport to New Orleans, many of our state’s libraries now offer the hottest technology.  And it’s not just the cities. This is also true of the small towns. As I understand it, the Natchitoches library is working to offer their patrons headsets that can be used in job training—they simulate the job experience. Many libraries have become 24/7 facilities. They are open even when they are closed. I mean that people outside the building may be using a library’s wi-fi technology (and you thought all those young people parked in cars at night were just kissing).

Libraries are also gathering places for the community. This year, I noticed that a library in Shreveport had a program about issues teens are dealing with. Other libraries are adding branches in rural areas. For instance, Natchitoches Parish Library opened up a Campti branch a few years back and does lots of outreach to poor communities that don’t have library access. 

Most important of all, today’s technology driven libraries are shortening the space between the haves and have nots. Many poor citizens don’t have computers in their home. But if they can make it to a library, they can have the latest technology at their fingertips for no cost. It’s not a bad deal at all.  Although not everyone who is a minority is poor, many are. So, there is a kind of poetic justice operating when people who are striving for equal rights can access a tool that gives them an edge technologically speaking.  Well, it can at least sort of even up the score. Some people may be tempted to say, “Well, I am not a minority so that means nothing to me.” Not so fast. Our Post- Christian Society is creating a new minority. They are called “Christians”. More and more, we are seeing that those of us who adhere to Biblical Christian values are being pushed to the edges of society. Our rights and religious freedoms are threatened and gradually being taken away.  Persecuted groups benefit from information and access to tools that can help them fight for their rights. The Civil Rights Movement was effective in part because the leaders were well-informed and used information effectively.  Many were lawyers, pastors, or college students—all three groups are studious and tend to do lots of research and reading.  When you are being persecuted, information and facts can be weaponized in your defense.

This is all just to say that strong, vibrant, creative libraries are worth the time and financial investment they require.  In short, they are worth building, worth investing in and certainly worth fighting for. In the days and years ahead, our nation will face many serious new challenges. The whole earth is undergoing a compelling change in climate that will do more than alter the climate. These changes will bring about economic strain, famine, as well as political and social unrest as humanity fights over the earth’s resources. In such desperate times, it is common for people to devalue the things we cannot touch with our hands—the intangibles: faith, education, God and a respect for one’s fellow human beings and community. But history has shown that no nation has been able to construct an enduring society without possessing all four. Ask the Greeks. Ask the Romans. The healthy souls of citizens are essential to maintaining a great society. Strong libraries play a role in helping us tie all four together.

It’s Jesus’ birthday party. Let’s not forget to invite him to it.  Here’s a Christmas Holiday Suggestion: Share the true story of his birth with family and friends. After or before opening gifts to each other, why not gather the family around the table and read of his gift to all who will accept it–salvation. Read Matthew Chapters 1 and 2 (Yes, read it out loud). Merry Christmas to you and yours and a Happy New Year.