Could there be a better use of 10 cents a day?


I moved to Lake Oswego 20 years ago, with a newish bride and a new daughter, and the very first civic act I performed as an Oswegan was to stroll two blocks to the library and get my library card.

Your library card, it seems to me, is the most sweetly and brilliantly American of passports; it is supple plastic proof that you have thrown in with your neighbors on such crucial communal values as education, access and free speech. I am that rare soul, perhaps, who pays his taxes happily, for I never lose track of the fact that my taxes help kids go to school in my town, help firefighters and police officers and detectives protect kids in my town, help fresh water be delivered to every resident, help consumers get safely to businesses in my town ... and allow every resident to borrow any book, film, or recording you want, from any library in our enormous county, for zero cents per transaction.

This is astonishing and we take it totally for granted.

Now I am asked, on the same ballot where I will choose between beaming lawyers named Willard and Barack to steer the national ship, if I will pony up about ten cents a day for a library that will be bigger, closer to the downtown retail area, and designed to take roaring advantage of astounding technological change.

In the new library there will be plenty of room for the readings and concerts that are now crammed between stacks of books. There will be space designed just for telling stories to small children, a holy act that now is consigned to a large closet in the current library. There will be room for scholarly research, room for many more books and films and recordings, much more parking.

For about 10 cents a day.

Yet there are many people, I understand, who will decline our chance for a better library. This puzzles me exceedingly. Would we vote against more safety? Would we vote against better educating more children? Would we vote against cleaner water? No? Then why would we decline a better library? Is there anything more central to the basic American values of free assembly, free speech, free access to information, than our town library?

We have the busiest library in Oregon. The busiest library in Oregon is too small for its ever-increasing popularity and crammed into its residential neighborhood like a Trailblazer in a phone booth. Years of careful planning by all sorts of our neighbors have hatched a cool plan for a new library that will not only be bigger and better but will be surrounded by the hundred shops and stores of our neighbors, who will be thrilled at the business.

For about ten cents a day.

Sure, I know what those cents mean, carried over years. Sure, we are in economic miasma. Sure we can wait until the year 2050 for a new library, I guess. But if there’s anything that’s crucial and nutritious and quintessentially American in our town, it’s our library. Why wait?

Brian Doyle’s novel “Mink River” was the Lake Oswego Reads 2012 selection.