Save Our Books

What is a library?

It’s more than a building. It’s more than a depository. It’s more than its walls, more than its books – more than any physical description can explain.

A library is a holding place for knowledge – a protection of ideas, from ancient texts to modern fiction. It’s an always ready collection of thoughts and legends, prepared and organized for the public’s good. There’s no need to stock every known book in your home. That’s the job of the library.

To borrow a book from a library is to sign into an association with free speech in the most basic of terms – as in, a free exchange of thoughts, of theology and democracy and realism and whatever else it is that interests you. Everything you could want is at your fingertips. The power of information is filtered through your mind – you have the choice, now, to read what you like.

To complete your education. To enjoy a great story. To research a long discussed theory. To fight for your cause through well thought out arguments and a decade’s – if not century’s – worth of previously written dialog and discourse.

None of us can claim to know it all. In fact, we build our personal knowledge upon the shoulders of those who came before us, adding our own histories and devising our own theories based on their writings. Like a skyscraper, we must first build a solid foundation in order to prevent an unsteady structure.

Our libraries serve as this foundation. They collect all of that information.

And, in South Dakota, the State Library is in danger of being dispersed.

It is in danger of being closed to the public.

Overall, the South Dakota State Library will suffer the following setbacks:
• Disbursement of 80% of the current collection
• Disbursement of all large print books
• Discontinuation of the state inter-library loan program
• Canceling of direct services for citizens
• Transfer of all services from public to private, governmental only

In other words, the idea of a one-stop State Library will be history. Just like the books that currently line its shelves, the Library will be an ancient idea, a theory; though this time, it will no longer be available for us to peruse.

Those that live in rural towns, and those that live on Indian Reservations – including Tribal Colleges – will be shut out from interlibrary loans. The information flow throughout one of the best and biggest Midwestern library systems will be shut off from all of small-town South Dakota.

In reality, this has already happened – as of January 1st, 2007, the doors were closed to the public and the books have begun to trickle out. The only thing that can save the State Library from becoming yet another governmental, fully-exclusive building is House Bill 1215 – the Save Our Books bill.

And that bill has been deferred, to the 41st day.

Will there be anything left when that day comes?

Tom Van Norman, State Representative District 28A, sent out a Press Release with his thoughts:

Breaking up and removing one of the best library collections in the Midwest and replacing the book shelves with Government office space just doesn’t make sense to me.

Changing the mission of the South Dakota State Library is a policy decision and to my knowledge the legislature was not consulted in this rush to implement an out of state library consultant’s misguided plan.

I think we need to slow the process down, take a deep breath and see what the consequences of this plan will actually be to the citizens of this state before cutting public services even more. I believe a legislative interim study should be made before our State Library books are disbursed forever, making it more difficult and more costly for South Dakota citizens to use. It would be very costly to replace a great book collection such as what the State Library has made available to the citizens of South Dakota’s since 1913.

And where did all of the large print books get sent off too?

And why is there no money in the proposed State Budget to help the local libraries who are supposed to handle all interlibrary loans from now on?

And what are the hours of operation in our rural towns?

The Library Plan is replete with bad timing, bad policy and sends the wrong message.

I mirror the thoughts of “jpollock,” who commented on this matter over at S.D. Watch and also alerted me to this concern through e-mail.

“Years from now our children and grandchildren will look back and this will have been the legislative session that allowed the Department of Education by executive decision to disassemble this great single archives of books in South Dakota and close the doors of the State Library to ordinary citizens.

Anyone understands this, a library without books is no longer a library.”

And a library without a public no longer spurs thoughtful discussion, knowledge, or education. It’s just a building. It’s just another damned building.

This was lovingly handwritten on February 12th, 2007