A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to a candidate open house, hosted by the White Pine Library Cooperative. Along with this invitation, they sent a list of questions that they’ll be asking the candidates. I’m a pretty big supporter of intellectual freedom and libraries, so I really look forward to attending the open house. For now, I want to post the letter and the questions, as well as some answers that I’ve been working on. I think these answers work best as rough sketches of how I’ll respond, because I’m still doing some research.
1) What is your stand on intellectual freedom and the role libraries play in protecting intellectual freedom and individual privacy?
I am a huge proponent of intellectual freedom, from having open access to information to protecting first amendment rights. As an English major at the University of Michigan, I was exposed to many schools of thought and opinions, some of which I did not agree with. Furthermore, the library system at U of Michigan and in the City of Ann Arbor had millions of volumes of books and journals and didn’t discriminate based on source or topic. These were invaluable to the progress of my education there. Part of valuing intellectual freedom is being brave enough to explore alternate ideas without prejudging them. I found my exposure to the wild field of thoughts on subjects like philosophy to be wholly beneficial to my education and growth as a person.
I see libraries as one of the foundations of a civilized society; indeed, as a student, I spent a lot of time looking through the stacks of the Hatcher Graduate Library. The knowledge contained within libraries, forming the cornerstone of an enlightened and civilized society, is vital in efforts to maintain freedoms like privacy. But more than that, libraries allow people to explore ideas without judgment or reproach.
2) The comment “It’s all on the Internet” is simply not true. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s knowledge is on-line. The rest remains housed in libraries. High-speed Broadband is essential to the knowledge economy. Due to economic circumstances, many citizens have eliminated Internet access at home. In many rural areas, there is either no access or only dial-up access.
How do you propose to ensure that all libraries have access to this vital network?
In my experience, internet access is a vital service that libraries provide. And in a lot of ways, this situation is the best of both worlds; access to stores of knowledge held in books, as well as access to the internet, which provides resources for new knowledge from sources like scientific journals, news outlets, and blogs. A United Nations report has even recognized internet access as a basic human right. It’s obvious that, should members of a community not have access to a reliable internet connection, public libraries can fill in the gaps.
I think at the best way to ensure that all libraries have access to the internet is to fold funding for internet access into its normal funding, and work with internet providers to provide the best service for the most reasonable costs. I think that since the internet is so vital for so many functions today, such as paying bills and submitting job applications, we should also invest in developing fiber optic networks and other networks to deliver the internet throughout the country.
3) School libraries play a vital role in the education of students, yet they are being eroded and eliminated across Michigan. In many cases, the local public library has stepped in to act in this capacity. Funding for public libraries is also on the decline.
How will you ameliorate these situations?
There’s no doubt that funding for public institutions like schools and libraries is lagging. When I was a student at Bath High School I had access to a decent enough library to a school of its size, and I took advantage of it. The school’s librarian even tasked me with creating a list of science fiction books that the school might acquire in an effort to expand and update that section.
With school libraries being scaled back, and the budgets for local public libraries being reduced, school children and educators are put in a difficult situation. Some students will have to rely on dubious information they find on the internet from sources like Wikipedia instead of having reliable encyclopedia and history books.
Again, we need to make sure that we’re fully funding our public libraries, as well as giving students the resources they need to learn how to use libraries.
4) Michigan’s Constitution requires the State to fund public libraries. To meet this requirement, Michigan has created 2 streams of funding. They are: State Aid to public libraries and Penal fines for libraries.
What is your position on State supported library funding, specifically:
State Aide to public libraries (currently 42% below fully mandated funding) and Penal fines for libraries?
In detail, how will you protect these funding sources?
It’s a sign of how important libraries were to the framers of the Michigan constitution that they mandated state library funding.
I would work to increase state aide to public libraries if elected, and I would defend State Act 59 of 1964 from attack by legislation to reduce funding from both sources to public libraries. It would also be helpful to reaffirm Michigan’s commitment to public libraries, and by extension intellectual freedom and the enlightenment principles on which the United State is founded. Perhaps this can be achieved through a concurrent resolution to note Article VIII § 9 of the Michigan Constitution, which reads “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment and support of public libraries which shall be available to all residents of the state under regulations adopted by the governing bodies thereof. All fines assessed and collected in the several counties, townships and cities for any breach of the penal laws shall be exclusively applied to the support of such public libraries, and county law libraries as provided by law,” and then reaffirm the legislature’s dedication to funding public libraries.
5) MeL is a collection of data bases made available from the Library of Michigan using federal funding. Literally millions of items are shared via this program. The Michigan Cooperatives pay delivery costs for materials sent. Reductions in State Aid have made this nearly impossible. The federal dollars have been in jeopardy because of State reductions in matching funds. Local libraries cannot pay for this popular service from local budgets.
What steps will you take to protect this important service to Michigan citizens?
The easiest step is to reverse the reductions in state aid to pay for the service, especially if it means we get federal matching funds to assist with funding it. The Michigan eLibrary is another invaluable tool for students and residents of the state, vital to education and intellectual freedom.
This specific issue is related to the previous issues about funding, and can be addressed in concert with the other funding issues, I think. It’s made all the more vital to secure adequate state funding for this service so that we don’t risk losing the federal matching funds.
Well, that takes care of what I have for the White Pine questions so far. I’ll work on improving these responses as we get closer to the date of the open house.