Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Deprivation Mindset

Conway Public Library 

As soon as humans developed written language, there were libraries. The Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt was built in 300 BC, and became a center for scholars. It was not open to the rabble, only to those with suitable scholarly qualifications. It was part of the Musaeum of Alexandria, a larger research institute. There were collections, lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens. It flourished, until Julius Caesar burned it down.

The earliest libraries in the United States were the private collections of doctors or ministers. John Harvard bequeathed his books and an endowment to the university that adopted his name. Books symbolized wealth, because only the wealthy had them.

Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea of the social library. He had thousands of books, so he incorporated the Library Company of Philadelphia that one could join by buying stock in the company. Only members could access the books. Athenaeums worked in much the same way. The first was founded in Boston, and members were the male gentry, who bought high priced stock. Women were not allowed in the early years. Knowledge is power. The men knew that. They wanted to keep their women uneducated and obedient.

Circulating libraries developed in the late 1700s, often in bookstores, where popular fiction was rented out. In Massachusetts, Horace Mann pushed for school libraries in the 1830s, pointing out that once children were educated, they ought to have something to read. In 1833, the town of Peterborough founded the first public library. The state had collected taxes to start a state college, but it didn’t work out, so the state allocated the money to various towns to support education. Peterborough took their share and bought books for a town library. In 1849, New Hampshire became the first state to pass a law permitting the use of local taxes to support public libraries.

Libraries and education are still a source of contention here in NH, as one can see every year during election season.

For ten years, the Conway Public Library tried to get voters to pass a bond so that the library could expand. In 2001, the bond measure passed. For those who don’t remember, the original library was small. They were running out of room. There was no comfortable meeting room. There were books stacked up in corners in some places. It was a lovely old building that had become too small for the needs of the town. There were opponents, of course. One of the most vocal opponents had never actually been inside the library.

The expansion was completed in 2003. The addition was true to the character and appearance of the original building. There was still plenty of green space outside. And now there were meeting rooms, a big children’s room, a history room, and plenty of space for computers, for reference, and for readers. I’ve read, researched, and written at the library. I met my third husband there.

Library ugliness seems to crop up every few years, and this year is no exception. Elections for cemetery trustees never seem to generate a lot of controversy. No one fights to become a cemetery trustee. There is no power in being the gatekeeper to the dead. The gatekeepers of public knowledge are an entirely different story.  

Some property owners who don’t use the library hate it. They always have. It’s a waste of their tax dollars, blah, blah, blah. The greater good is of no interest to them. They have no concern for the others in the community or the children – in fact, those pesky kids are a problem, too, what with paying to educate them. They may have moved here because our state is something of a tax shelter for the affluent. Once here, they become intent on nickel and diming. New Hampshire functions on a deprivation mindset. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, and it plays out in a number of ways.

The Conway area has ignored the housing shortage for decades. Once in a while the need for affordable housing for the local work force would come up, and out would come the Oh Hell NO crowd, trumpeting their opinion that affordable housing would mean those welfare people from Massachusetts would move up here so they could live cheap. There are holes in that argument that one could drive a fleet of dump trucks through. Poor people were going to flee to NH to live in a place with no public transportation, no jobs, in a state that provides almost no social services, just because of cheap housing? But that was always the argument, and the faithful nodded their heads, because logic is not part of the deprivation mindset.

The affordable housing never came. The economy collapsed in 2008. Lots of folks lost their houses. Rental property was now a really hot commodity, and that drove the costs up. They have not come down and wages have not gone up. There are a lot of help wanted ads in the paper, but not much in the way of rental housing. The service jobs are many, but they don’t exactly provide a route to home ownership.  In a recent perusal of the classifieds, I found the rental costs are similar to what one would find in Concord or Manchester.  

It’s hard to live here. Property taxes are (thanks Mel and Bill!) are prohibitive. The jobs aren’t high paying. It’s a resort area, and that means that rich people buy vacation homes, but they don’t live here. They drive up the property values, but still expect workers to be on hand to wash their cars and fill their coffee cups. Those workers have to come from increasing distances in order to afford housing.

There was a lot of noise about giving free library cards to people who don’t live in Conway. How dare we give anything to moochers! The deprivation mindset was on parade.

Those potential library cards were part of a discussion - not any kind of a done deal. It was presented as a fait accompli to alarm voters during an election. The discussion was around giving library cards to workers at some local businesses. These are very likely to be workers who commute because they can’t afford to live in the same place where they work. This idea of benefitting workers was regarded by some as if they were potential thieves getting away with something. They were going to be stealing…words? Some guy who has never been in the library was incensed that someone might get to read a book for free? Seriously? We don’t have enough words and books to go around?

Most of us grow out of the “MOM – he got more than I did” phase. Those who don’t move to NH.  

My editor told me of a term she learned in a medical anthropology class, "socialization for scarcity." 

Published in the April 15, 2016 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper  

1 comment:

tworavens said...

Oh yes, the Nazi book burners are constantly breathing down our necks, all under the guise of "liberty" and free dumbs!! King Charles I found himself under guard in the home of none other than Sir Robert Cotton. The home included a library of rare books including two original copies of the Magna Carter. These had provided Cotton with scholarly material when he wrote tracts that addressed the arbitrary and dictatorial power of Kind Charles. The King subsequently imprisoned Cotton AND confiscated his books. Cotton was never reunited with his beloved and highly prized library. The King ended up losing his head on the executioners block.