How casting a “NO” vote can prevent the serious weakening of one parish library and the closing of another

By Edwin Crayton/Opinion

This month and again in April, you’ll hear four confusing words quite a lot: “Rededication of library funds”. The word rededication in this case does not mean what you probably think it does. Hint: it has nothing to do with devotion or renewing wedding vows. Actually, it’s not nice at all. The best way I know to explain what “rededication” does mean, is to share a bit of personal experience from out of my past. At one point in my life as a little boy, I lived in a kind of rough neighborhood in Alexandria. In our neighborhood, if you a saw a toaster at someone’s house and it looked just like yours, it almost certainly was yours. You might say, that when you were not looking or not at home, that person had “rededicated” your toaster to his or her home. In other words, they took it from you and decided to make it their own. The way I see it, that is basically what the Parish Council will be doing on April 29, if a proposal to “rededicate library funds” is voted in by the voters of Natchitoches Parish. If the proposal passes, it will cut library funds severely. Those funds will then be used to work on roads in the parish.

Here’s how the Natchitoches Parish Library describes the situation, “The Natchitoches Parish Council has put a proposal on the ballot that will be asking voters to rededicate half of the library’s millage—approximately $1.5 M—and use it to “fix” Parish roads exclusively outside the city limits of Natchitoches.” The Natchitoches Parish Council voted 3 to 2 to do this. Let me ask you something. What would you do if your personal budget was slashed in half?

Well, if we the voters decide to allow “rededication” of funds meant for the local Parish libraries, it will have a very negative impact. At the main branch in Natchitoches, it will mean decreasing hours of operation. It will lead to discontinuation of databases. It will lead to a reduction in Bookmobile services. These services are a big help to students and residents in rural areas. It will also lead to reduction or elimination of programming for all ages (including summer reading performers.) At a time when literacy is a big need throughout Louisiana. In Campti, “rededication” will be even worse. It most likely lead to the closing of the newly built branch there. Many Americans know that closing a library is a very negative blow to a community. In fact, a 2013 Pew Research Study revealed that 90% of Americans 16 and older said, “the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community, with 63% saying it would have a “major” impact. Asked about the personal impact of a public library closing, two thirds (67% said it would affect them and their families, including 29% who said it would have a major impact.”

Let me try to put a warm face on those cold numbers. As I was writing this article, I met an 18-year-old young woman. She lives in Campti. She was worried that without the library, it would be hard tor her to submit scholarship applications to colleges. She mentioned that she has a computer at home, but does not have a printer. Before the Campti library was created, she had to travel to Natchitoches just to print out her school work or whatever she was working on. So here is a young person trying to better herself by going to college, who uses the library to make that easier to accomplish and we may vote to take that away from her? My hunch is, there are many more people who are using the library to get ahead and that closing the library in Campti will be a big setback for them. Libraries are more than just places to get books. In a 2017 article from the Brookings Institute 2017, Researcher Marcello Cabello and Senior Fellow Stuart Butler said:” A reason public libraries are seen as such important third-place institutions is that they and their librarians have gradually taken on other functions well beyond lending out books.” Indeed, they are right. Our local libraries like most libraries today, are job centers where people apply for work. They are meeting places for the community. They are places were people who are too poor to afford high technology are able to access the latest technology they need to stay relevant and live life in a technology-driven world that isn’t going backwards, but forward towards new technological horizons we can’t even imagine. The library is the gateway for those who otherwise would be locked out because they live in rural areas or because they are too poor. It is an equalizer.

Even if you do not use the library it will impact your life. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say, you have a business and you use low wage workers. Most people in that group will not have computers. They use the library’s computer technology to search for jobs, fill out applications and gather documents. If their library closes or is weakened, it will be hard for them to do those things and some may even up their job search. That could make it harder to apply for work and this could lead to a slow down in your ability to fill jobs. Or, what if the town you live in wants to attract higher wage jobs by trying to entice companies to relocate to your town? When considering relocating, companies place a priority on quality of life for their employees and good schools and good libraries tend to be on their wish list. Knowledge is power. God blesses both rich and poor with talents that allow them to thrive. Many great performers in business, the arts and the sciences come from poor neighborhoods. But by God’s grace and hard work they are able to contribute much to the world. Often, the library is a tool that helps turn their career dreams into reality. If you run a business or growing organization of any type, you may discover—if you haven’t already– that your best leaders and performers sometimes come from disadvantaged backgrounds and neighborhoods.

If Natchitoches voters decide to cut library funds by voting for rededication, and you are one of those who vote that way, remember something as you drive along your tiny stretch of road that resulted from rededicating library funds. Think of what that road really cost. It was paid for by boarding up and closing one practically new library in Campti. It was paid for by slashing data resources and new technology at the main branch. It was paid for by reducing bookmobile services to rural residents and students.

It was paid for by reducing hours at the main branch as well. And last but certainly not least, it was paid for by cutting jobs and losing a very good staff at the main branch. Those are not final costs either. Indeed, we will be paying for such a bad decision for a long time.

That is why the best and most helpful word on the upcoming ballot is NO.

“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the cost is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”
—Walter Cronkite, legendary news anchor of CBS News