Monday, May 15, 2006

Building Blocks

Following cuts in state aid, many towns in Massachusetts are seeking budget overrides to offset projected deficits for 2007. Medway voters rejected a proposed $2.5 million override last month; and now, the Medway library will likely be closed.

These deficits have caused as contentious a debate as I've seen in local politics. There are valid complaints on both sides, from allegations of classism to criticisms that new residents move into town, hike taxes with frivolous spending, then leave. But for the moment, I'm not concerned with those arguments. Medway is going to close its library.

I'm a conservative. I believe in small government. But there are certain faculties that are absolutely necessary to the progress of a civilized society, and foremost among them is education — and public libraries are the best and only resource we have to provide for the abiding education of our citizens.

I don't have a solution. Medway's deficit is real, and the voters have decreed to solve it with budget cuts. Closing the library will result in a $280,000 savings. The school budget is likely to be cut by $542,000; so by comparison, maybe it's trivial to view the library's loss as a blow to education. And the library could be reopened next July, so I don't mean to imply that the sky is falling.

Still. It's sad to see a public library viewed as non-essential. I realize that many suburban voters eschew public libraries in favor of Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but there's much to be said for the value of unexercised freedoms. And in the case of a public library, the freedom at issue is the freedom to improve yourself — which is, at root, the American dream.

A man said, "You're the same person today as you'll be next year, except for two things — the people you'll meet and the books you'll read." The residents of Medway are going to lose one of those two opportunities for growth during the next year. That's a political tragedy.


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