Louisiana Eliminates Knowledge, Education

Gov. Bobby Jindal does not like libraries. A library to him is a socialist enterprise, a drain on state resources, a thing that the people who use them should support directly in the manner of  church pot lucks or clothing drives. A library, to him, is not a source of education or other means of acquiring health, wealth, or the pursuit of happiness. If it were, he would not allow his office to present anything as self-evidently false as this tidbit reported by the Library Journal:

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, said in a statement, “In tight budget times, we prioritized funding for health care and education. Operations such as local libraries can be supported with local, not state dollars.”

It’s clear to those of us who work in libraries that life is not that simple. It’s also clear to us that funding libraries is how one funds health and education. To say that libraries don’t count in that effort is either bald-faced untruth or utter ignorance, disguised by political double-speak to appear as governance.

The double-speak is laid out more clearly a few paragraphs down:

Louisiana Division of Administration spokesman Michael DiResto told LJ: “The FY 13 Louisiana budget includes two federal technology grants for the State Library for the purchase of e-books ($1 million), which local libraries can use through the interlibrary loan program, and to provide statewide technology training and equipment for public libraries ($782K) – for a total of almost $1.8 million, which more than makes up for the $896K in direct state funding.”

However, those federal technological funds from the BTOP program are earmarked specifically for providing training, laptops for citizens to check out, and accessible workstations for the blind. As such they cannot be distributed to local libraries to maintain, upgrade, or replace the in-library desktop PCs and servers that were previously covered by state aid. Increased access to ebooks may help make up for lack of collection development dollars to some extent, but since 34-43 percent of Louisiana residents don’t have Internet access at home, ebooks can’t completely replace the lost dollars for print materials, especially in poorer areas.

Technology is nice, but it’s no substitute for the basics. Print books cost a few dollars each (maybe a few hundred for the good reference books), last for a decade or more and can be visually perused by anyone not sure of what they need at a particular moment. A laptop that can be checked out costs a thousand dollars and has a significant chance of never returning. To a community that finds itself perpetually in the red, the fancy electronic resources remain a pipe dream. The stuff on printed pages is the real deal, along with internet access. That’s what they need.

Another point to consider is this: any corporate entity–a mom and pop store, a national giant, or a library–needs something called operating income. It’s a clever accounting term that refers to the funds that maintain day-to-day operations. Part of that operating income is expected to maintain the people who maintain and grow the enterprise. You and I refer to this line of funding as what it looks like from the back end: salaries. State grants, foundation endowments, and gifts from the federal government generally do not provide that type of maintenance. That sort of thing is reserved for growing the collection in one specific way or another. It’s bonus money, the same way that $10 from your grandfather on your birthday was bonus money. It’s nice to have but not enough to live on.

So when Hizzoner “prioritizes” health and education while holding back funds which contribute to such things in poor neighborhoods, he is at least being short-sighted. At worst, he is a lying, unprincipled, creep.

I’m reasonably sure that Bobby Jindal is not about to suggest that local businessmen forgo their own maintenance (or that he forgo his) for the sake of health and education. That said, the motivated, inquisitive people who make good employees and entrepreneurs are generally the ones who are going to be spending significant amounts of time researching ideas, borrowing books on business (accounting, marketing, managing) and probably looking at such pop favorites of the business community as “Who Moved my Cheese?” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  De-fund the basics and all that goes away. How he expects them to find anyone worth hiring in that sort of environment is beyond me.

And if I was really cynical, I’d guess that he doesn’t.

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