This being an election year, we should not be surprised that curious decisions are being made by our elected officials in Boise. First, though, let’s be clear about libraries.
Idaho’s wonderful public libraries are doing a great job. They operate on tiny budgets. Still, they manage to put on engaging reading programs for kids.
Our libraries help students find a quiet place to study and to get access to educational resources they may not have at home. Libraries maintain, issue and track books for all of us, and they do much, much more.
Over a week ago the Legislature cut more than $3.8 million from the tiny $11 million budget Gov. Brad Little had proposed for the state’s smallest agency, the Idaho Commission for Libraries. Why? The library agency was being punished because a private library-lobby group had opposed an anti-education, anti-library bill passed by the House earlier this year.
The Idaho Senate, by the way, found the bill to be so deficient in substance that it was never considered there.
Republican defunding of Idaho libraries cut two important technology initiatives. One would support telehealth access points in rural libraries. Those would allow people in places like Fremont County to have video appointments with health care professionals.
Last year, the state started a pilot project at two rural libraries to provide private rooms and broadband in rural libraries where community members could attend telehealth appointments. The pilot project was well-received, especially by seniors who couldn’t easily make a long drive for an appointment. “The concept was to expand it to additional libraries throughout the state,” a member of the governor’s financial staff told Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports.
Also cut was $300,000 for electronic resources — mainly e-books — that are accessible through all Idaho public libraries via the Library Commission’s LILI internet system. That cut will hurt Southeast Idaho libraries that won’t have as many e-resources to share from the state system.
Republicans in the Legislature argued, with absolutely no evidence, the cuts were necessary to stop an avalanche of pornography being handed out to kids by librarians. Long before the Legislature finally got around to requiring porn blockers on library computers, our local libraries had installed and were using the technology. Porn is far, far too freely available on the internet, but you’ll have trouble finding it in our libraries.
Only after they’d trashed the Library Commission budget did the majority legislators gin up the idea of actually looking into whether libraries are doing what they’re accused of. Doesn’t it look like Republicans in the Legislature are claiming the study is necessary to cover up one more embarrassing case of their party’s lying run amok?
The lying punished the Library Commission, which is a state agency. The real targets were the Senate that didn’t take up their anti-library bill, and the entirely independent, non-government Idaho Library Association (ILA) that didn’t think putting librarians in jail for doing their jobs was a good idea.
The ILA is supported by people who actually visit and care about libraries. Being private, the ILA and its members do have free speech rights.
However, as the Legislature proved, exercising free speech that disagrees with the Republican majority in the Legislature is punished. Even Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, called it political retribution. “I consider it to be a fine,” said Chaney, of the library de-funding.
Now right-wing wackos in our Legislature have switched from book-banning to making an outrageous accusation. Despite what they believe and say, no, our public libraries are not handing out pornography to kids.
The damage that’s been done to education by constant false attacks on school boards, teachers, colleges and universities will take generations to repair. Why on earth does any legislator think following the same wrong path to harm our wonderful libraries is also a good idea?
Dave Finkelnburg is a long-time Idahoan, a former newspaper journalist, and is currently semi-retired from an engineering career.