The Library Closed

And then it was the day the library closed. Not just for the evening, or the day, or even for a holiday or staff training, but forever, but nobody noticed. Nobody noticed for the same reason it closed. They simply stopped coming.

It hadn’t happened all at once. It had taken a decade or so for the people to forget how to read, why to read. Of course they knew, they weren’t illiterate they’d say, but choosing not to read was the same as not being able to read when push came to shove, so there you go.

The library had adapted itself over the years, rolling with the changes. Librarians are smart cookies. They notice change. They notice when people check out less and less books. They notice because librarians like data. They like statistics. So they saw the train coming and tried to get out of the way before they were squashed, before they were swept away like so much debris after a car wreck.

The libraries first got the post office to let them handle the tax forms. Libraries are open into the night, unlike post office. Libraries have computers too, so people can file right then. Libraries have librarians too, and while not being IRS agents were nonetheless usually able to make a pretty good guess when it came to unusual questions about tax forms.

Then they got the voter registration forms. Then they had early voting. Then driver’s license renewal kiosks.

They started teaching classes, for free, open to the community about anything and everything, desperate to show they were still relevant, still needed. Anything to get their numbers up. They started offering free tax help, ESL classes, help signing up for healthcare, section 8 housing, and naturalization. None of these things had to do with what libraries had always been about.

But still the people didn’t come in to read. Maybe they read on their tablets. Maybe they read only magazines. Maybe they only listened to talk radio. Whatever they did, they didn’t check out books. Some said “Oh I don’t use the library anymore now that my children are grown”, as if reading is something only toddlers do, instead of being something people do.

Somehow they forgot (or never knew) that reading is what makes us human, makes us civilized. Somehow they forgot that reading is how humans get new information into their heads. Somehow they forgot that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

If an invading force had closed the Libraries the community would be up in arms. But we closed them, through lack of use. We are to blame for our closed libraries and closed minds.

So the library relaxed its rules. People could be loud. People could eat food. Some libraries even had cafés, like coffee shops. They became rebranded as “third spaces”, where people were encouraged to visit between work and home. The library had to do this. But in letting loud people in, they chased away the people who needed quiet. So while gaining new patrons, they lost other ones.

And the books. The book started going away. Those that didn’t check out in two years got sent downtown in a cardboard box. The workers hoped they would be sent to another library, but in reality they were sold for a few dollars. A $26 book sold for nearly nothing to some online wholesaler. And every year they scrambled for a budget but the books went away.

So there were fewer and fewer books, so there were fewer and fewer checkouts, so there were fewer statistics. And so it goes, on and on, until the library painted itself into a corner and there was nothing left.

So the library closed because of lack of interest. There was no need for them anymore. America has proven through its actions that it no longer needed quiet or information.

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We have failed our boys.

We have failed our boys. Every day I see more and more boys who say they don’t want to read. Knowing how to read but choosing not to is the same as being illiterate. The result is the same whether they know how to read but don’t or they never knew how. Every day I see boys who – if they read at all, read far below their age level, only able to read books that have many pictures in them. They are either unwilling or unable to read a book that has only words in it. They choose graphic novels and comic books if they choose books at all. There’s a whole series of books geared towards boys now that are written very simply and have many illustrations in them. It is as if they need training wheels in order to read. It is a disturbing trend.

Then if they read, the subject matter is concerning. Their parents steer them toward “boy” books. “Girl” books are about relationships – sharing, making friends, learning how to compromise. “Boy” books are about relationships as well – dominating others, being a soldier, being in charge. They learn this script too well. They learn that they must control every relationship they are in. They learn nothing about sharing or cooperating. Anything other than domination is seen as a failure. It is easy to see that it is impossible for everyone to be a winner with such a scenario. This sets them up for a lifetime of disappointment.

We have failed our boys. By telling them that “boys don’t cry” we are telling them that they are not allowed to express their emotions. Those feelings have to go somewhere. When you don’t allow someone to cry the feeling turns around upon itself and transforms, metastasizes, goes dark.

We have failed our boys. When we say “boys will be boys” to excuse bad behavior we’re saying that they don’t have to try better. We’re saying that there’s no reason for them to act in a respectful manner. Any behavior that you would want to see in your boy when he grows up into a man should be encouraged when he’s young. When we let boys get off the hook from punching others or pulling on girl’s pigtails (or worse forms of abuse), we are saying that they are not accountable for their actions.

Is all of this why so many acts of violence have happened recently? Is this why so many boys and young men have decided to express themselves, to be heard, to be noticed, by taking a gun into a public place and shooting random strangers? Have we done this to ourselves?

More importantly how can we make it stop?

Thoughts about The Nativity story.

There are a few issues with the story of the Nativity that happens in Matthew and then follows in Luke. Let us look at the original to start off with. This is the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation.

Matthew 1:18-25
18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name Him Immanuel,
which is translated “God is with us.”
24 When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.

Notice anything that didn’t synch up? The name isn’t the same.

Here’s the footnote to Matthew 1:21 from HCSB – “Jesus is the Gk form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which equals “The LORD saves” or “Yahweh saves.””

This makes the angel’s comment in line 21 “…because He will save His people from their sins” make sense. His name is his job description.

But then the prophecy by Isaiah says that they will name him Immanuel, which is translated as “God is with us.”

Which one is it? Jesus (Joshua, Yeshua), meaning “the Lord saves” (The Lord being Yahweh), or is it Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”?

Maybe it is a little of both. God saves us by being with us. God lets us know that we aren’t alone. God isn’t “up there”. God cares so much about us that God came down here to be among us and save us from our fear and loneliness. Our God is a hands-on kind of God. Our God isn’t like a CEO or upper management. Our God knows what we are being asked to do, because our God has done it with us. Our God knows how hard life is here in these bodies with their faults and limitations. Our God knows because our God has lived it with us.

Now, this is a poetic interpretation. It sounds good, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Is the prophecy fulfilled or not? He wasn’t named Immanuel, and he wasn’t named with the same meaning.

Then there is another problem. Are they married or not? The story continues in Luke 2:1-7. This too is from the HCSB translation.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. 2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.
4 And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, 5 to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place.”

Note line 5. She was engaged to him. Not his wife. In Matthew 1:24, he married her after the angel talked to him. She hadn’t given birth yet. The story of the birth happens only in Luke, and there she is listed as being engaged, not married.

It is important to read carefully and question everything. If things don’t match up, ask why.

Thoughts on the printing press and innovation

Look at how the printing press changed the world. No one had even thought about reproducing books on a mass scale before. They were written by hand and were precious. Only the very wealthy were able to read them. With the printing press it meant that everyone had access to the written word.

This of course assumes that they could read. That too had been limited to only the wealthy, who had the time and money to get an education.

We take the printing press for granted these days. It seems completely logical to not have to make books by hand one letter at a time, one person at a time. But it required the thought of one particular person and a lot of work to make it happen. Just one person had to have the idea and give it enough energy to make it real.

What new thing is about to happen that will change the way we think? What new thing is about to happen that will make us wonder will “How come we didn’t think of that?” What new thing will happen that will seem like we’ve always had it?

Before that new thing was the same old thing. We do things the same old way over and over again until either it is too difficult to do it or it breaks or somebody tries to figure out a way to make it easier to do. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but so is laziness.

Taking things for granted is death. When we take things for granted we don’t grow and we don’t change. Adversity sometimes is our greatest reward. It is our greatest spur towards growth. Sometimes the best question that can ever be asked is “Why not?” Just because we’ve always done it this way doesn’t mean we always should do it this way. Just because it works now doesn’t mean it can’t work better.

Thug and duke life

I see trends where I work, and patterns. They aren’t always good ones. I see so many women reading books that actually make their lives worse. The library is full of good books that can help them make their lives better.

But, it is kind of like a buffet. There are a lot of choices. Not everybody makes the healthy ones. Sadly, the unhealthy choices just perpetuate the holes that they are in.

I see so many black women reading “Urban erotic fiction” and they are all single mothers. They haven’t caught the connection.

Oprah says “What you focus on expands.” If you put garbage into yourself, that is all you’ll get.

If you read “romance” novels where the guy treats you like a piece of meat and leaves you, you’ll imprint that pattern on yourself as “normal”. It isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy. So when you finally get your “baller” or your “thug” – just new words for “bad boy” – and you get hurt by him, why are you surprised?

He beats you and insults you. You have sex with him to appease him or to get him to stay with you. Then you get pregnant and he leaves you. And all of that matched the pattern in the books you’ve been reading. This is what you have come to expect, and this is what you have been seeking.

Then you are left trying to raise a child by yourself, stuck in poverty. You both are at the bottom of the pile.

But then again, it isn’t just black women. I’ve noticed that the most common thing that obese, single white women read is “romance” novels. They get an idea of the “perfect” man who is going to sweep them off their feet and take them away to a better life.

Real men never match up to the men in the books that these women read. They are never ruggedly handsome, or dukes, or princes. They are average, and have faults, and are human.

So when these women do get involved in a relationship with a real man they get let down. He isn’t awesome or wonderful. He farts. He curses a bit. He has a temper. His parents are jerks. So they leave, because he isn’t up to their ideal picture they have stuffed inside their heads.

And their lives continue to be miserable.

It is just like with food. If a person eats artificial food, jacked up on extra sugar and fake flavors, they won’t know what real food looks like. They will think that real food tastes terrible when they come across it. They will get sick from all the chemicals they have been eating, but they will continue to eat them because they have ruined their taste buds for what is normal and healthy.

It is time to stop checking out romance novels.
It is time to start checking out reality.

Librarian super powers

I’m starting to use my librarian super powers and I’m not even a librarian.

There is a little girl who I taught to read last year. She is a lovely Hispanic girl, and her Mom brings her into the library weekly. I was blessed to be there the moment she “got” reading. She put her sounds together and her letters together and was able to read an unfamiliar word. She lit up. I gave her another word, and another. She nailed each one.

There is a problem now, a year later. Now she is getting only DVDs. I noticed this a few weeks ago and I said to her – “Get books. No more DVDs”. It didn’t work. I saw her last week getting the maximum number of DVDs – 10, and no books. She was standing on a step stool, looking through all the movies. She was at my height at this point.

I looked straight at her and said “Don’t let me think that I wasted my time teaching you how to read and all you are getting is DVDs. Go get books.” I pointed towards the books and away from the DVDs. She looked a little freaked out.

I’ll see how this plays out. If it comes to it I’ll have to learn how to say in Spanish to her Mom that she must get books. Mom doesn’t speak English at all. Her children have to do all the talking for her when they are out because they learned English in public school.

Part of the problem is that this girl is used to having her way. She is very cute and very pigheaded. I can tell she has her parents wrapped around her finger. Perhaps Mom and Dad understand the value of a good education, but they don’t quite get how important it is for parents to get involved in that education.

In order to be an actual librarian you have to have a Master’s degree in Library Science. I don’t. I just work in a library. I have a Bachelor’s in English. But everybody thinks that because I work in a library, I’m a librarian.

Working in a library is a lot like working retail, but with better public opinion. People think we are like teachers. They grant us more respect than in retail work. We are somewhat authority figures. I’m not sure why, but I’m using it anyway. As long as I use my powers for good, why not?

Getting kids to read.

I know too many people who let their children decide what they are going to read or if they are going to read. This is the same as letting them decide what they are going to eat. No child is going to make good choices. They are going to go for the comic books and the candy. That is why you are their parent. You are there to direct and guide them.

Just like a potter with a lump of clay, the potter shapes it and molds it until it is tall enough and strong enough that it will be useful. It has to be shaped in such a way that it can endure the heat of the kiln and the wear and tear of use.

Children have to be shaped so that they can be strong too. They need to be shaped so that that are good people and helpful and kind. They need to be shaped so that they can survive out in the world and not crack.

So in the same way that you wouldn’t let a child pick out all of his food when he is only going to go for cake and chips, you can’t let him pick out his books when he is only picking out what is essentially junk food for the mind.

Now we all need a little junk food reading every now and then. It is important to let kids have some control over what they select. They need to learn that reading is a pleasure and not a punishment. They need to feel that it is fun and not work. But a solid diet of junk food results in a sick body. A solid diet of junk food reading results in a sick mind.

If you let children have total control that is the same as the potter letting the clay have control. They will be an unformed lump at best. They will be spread all over the place at worst.

Don’t know what to recommend to your child? Go to your local library and ask a librarian. They are there to help. You don’t have to do this on your own, but you do have to do this. The mind you save will be your child’s. The world you will save will be your own.