The Kansas City Public Library was very clever to invite Susan Orlean here this week to talk about her new best-seller, “The Library Book,” about a still unsolved case of arson in the Los Angeles Public Library and the fire that consumed more than a million books there in 1986.
Clever because right after encouraging us to imagine where we’d be if our own community-building and even life-changing secular churches suddenly went up in smoke, we’ll vote on whether to support this vital civic institution with its first tax increase in 22 years.
We hope you’ll say yes on Nov. 6 because the $2.8 million a year that the 8-cent levy increase would raise would fund long overdue upgrades and important services. The levy funds that support the system’s 10 branches, which served 4 million visitors last year, have grown by less than 1 percent annually over the past decade, not even keeping up with inflation.
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A lot of us have fond memories of our first library cards and summer reading programs and the women — mostly, they were women — who handed over whole worlds to us, then reminded us to return them unharmed in two weeks or else.
But today, Kansas City’s libraries also offer access to the internet to those who don’t have it at home. They’re a safe, warm place where those who don’t have a home can read. They offer classes to immigrants and those seeking a high school diploma, and services to the elderly and the disabled, too. They provide community meeting rooms to groups of every description and are among the few spaces where both those with and without resources can and do go to learn and escape.
It’s those without resources who need it the most: A quarter of our population doesn’t have access to the internet, a staggering seven out of 10 Kansas City Public School students don’t have computer access at home, and four of 10 have at least two addresses during the year.
So it’s no small thing that our libraries provided 800,000 computer sessions on 700 computers and tablets last year, along with access to a digital media lab, online post-secondary and computer classes, job search and application help and health care information.
In return for raising property tax bills by less than 1 percent, we’d first get long overdue upgrades at Northeast, which serves a growing immigrant community, and at Waldo, where the building is both sinking and leaking.
Our kids would get more homework help and tutoring, our teens would get more Friday and Saturday programming, and our seniors would get more homebound book delivery as our population ages. In other words, a yes vote would help all of us.