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Michael Hoeye: Reduce demand on services by improving lives, economic prospects of citizens.

No other use of taxpayer dollars provides the return on investment that a public library does. None of them come close to the range and variety of benefits that accrue to a community with a strong public library. Few of these benefits are openly acknowledged, but they all impact the budgets of other county departments, reducing demand on services by improving the lives and economic prospects of the citizenry.Michael Hoeye

To name a few obvious instances of these passed-on benefits:

Public safety: Public safety ultimately depends on a shared sense of civic responsibility. Libraries provide a concrete example what civic responsibility looks like and how it functions in the real world. Libraries create sense of interconnected community, and communities that are interconnected experience lower rates of social dysfunction which reduces crime rates at no direct expense to the county.

Education: The COVID-19 pandemic provides a perfect example of how libraries served as clearinghouses of factual information when an uncertain public is facing a fast-emerging infectious disease disaster. Libraries provide access to reliable information about health and medicine through books, periodicals and internet access. Libraries offer the only internet access available to many community members. They also serve as heating and warming centers during weather emergencies.

Child care: Libraries supplement and expand upon school curricula from pre-K through grade 12. They provide research resources beyond what most schools can afford. Libraries foster literacy. They offer reading programs for a range of age groups. And they encourage the love of learning. The physical design of libraries with their books arranged by category and genre according to universal cataloguing systems demonstrate the nature of disciplined inquiry and the intellectual order that our culture has achieved over its thousands of years of literacy. It provides an indelible map of the scope of human knowledge.

Child care: As the child of a single mother, I can vouch for that fact that libraries offer safe and productive space during after-school hours and holidays. Nancy Pearl, Seattle's world-renowned librarian and author, has spoken often and eloquently about her childhood spent in Detroit's public libraries and the amazing education she found there.

Mental health: Libraries welcome all people, regardless of race, class or politics. They offer community classes and events and in doing so reduce social isolation, encourage social interaction, improve communication and provide purpose. All of these reduce anxiety, paranoia and dysphoria.

Public libraries are a uniquely American creation that has met or exceeded the community needs of the cities, towns and villages across this nation for more than 200 years. It is time to strengthen the county's commitment to building the Oak Lodge Library.

Oak Grove resident Michael Hoeye is an artist and children's book author.

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