Saturday, January 8, 2011

Love your library

This is a shout out to the public library, which serves us all intellectually and spiritually with a wealth of books and other materials; fairly and justly by making its materials available and accessible to everyone in the community; socially by providing us with a place to be; and sustainably.

Responding to a question about e-readers, Susan Cosier writes in her Green Guru column in the January-February 2011 issue of Audubon magazine:

A book made of recycled paper requires two-thirds of a pound of minerals (primarily gravel for road construction), whereas an e-reader uses 33 pounds for its electronic components and infrastructure.

She cites a study that suggests that "e-reader owners have to read 40 to 50 e-books to break even on most of the environmental costs."

(As an aside, I read in The New Yorker a few months back that the Kindle, which uses so-called electronic-ink technology, uses less energy than the iPad. By how much, it did not say.)

So, I want to start 2011 with a reminder to myself and a call to my friends to show love to your library: Use it. Support and defend public funding of it.

For those on campus, this includes your college or university library: Make time to play in the stacks! I always walk away with a ton of titles that inspire me.


The "break" between semesters for me is typically slower, saner, and just as filled with work. (I know the other academics are looking at this while they are not writing that paper or revising that article they planned to - so get back to work!) Slower and saner means that I allow myself to read the piles of back issues that have accumulated in the magazine basket that I keep in the downstairs bathroom. (Which is supposed to tell you not about my toilet habits, but about the near-guilt that I feel when I do not put my month's worth of The Nation and The New Yorker out of sight. Blurgh.)

So, on a note related to my soap-box moment on the library, I want to draw attention to another public good that is much too much taken for granted: The United States Postal Service.

As John Nichols wrote in The Nation (in the April 26, 2010 issue! - I think this must have been lost behind a Title Nine catalog - because I have a weakness for outdoor performance wear and the life it might represent):

Americans do not often talk about the Postal Service as a crucial underpinning of the democratic infrastructure, but we should. At a time when 35 percent of all Americans and 50 percent of rural residents have no broadband Internet access at home, the Postal Service is universal. Its 596,000 career employees travel more than 4 million miles to deliver more than a half-billion pieces of mail each day. It goes to extraordinary ends to assure that no citizen or community is neglected; it contracts commercial planes to move parcels across the country in a matter of hours, yet it still sends bush planes into Idaho's River of No Return Wilderness Area and organizes mule trains to deliver mail, food and supplies to the Havasupai Indians on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

The Postal Service maintains a network of more than 35,000 retail outlets--the largest in the world, with more locations than McDonald's, Starbucks and Wal-Mart combined--which are visited by more than 7 million Americans each day. The postal workers they encounter in these offices and on their doorsteps are reflective of their communities, as the service has historically been and remains one of the surest sources of employment for African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, women and the poor. In short, the USPS forms a vital network of service, connection and community that provides the steadiest link between Americans and their government. As Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) chair Ruth Goldway puts it, the service is "part of the fabric of the nation."

In 2011, how about we all rethink (and rephrase in our talk) what the post office is all about? Not a business, but a public service that not only treats people with fairness - I am dumbfounded by the extraordinary reach of the post office (bush planes and mule trains?!) - it also makes fairness possible in the form of absentee ballots. The measure of its success ought not to be its profitability.

Buy some stamps today?!

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