Friday, July 25, 2003

Stillwater: Why We Must Burn Down the Public Library

Regular readers of the Gazette have been following the ongoing debate in these pages over whether we ought to continue to fund our Public Library.

Mr. John Rheinberger, the Ward 2 Representative on the Stillwater City Council, was accused of backing a ‘library-closing’ scheme.

Mr. Rheinberger wrote in to make his position clear: he says that he does not want to close the Stillwater Public Library. Instead, what he proposes is to transfer ownership of the Stillwater Library to the Washington County library system. This would relieve Stillwater taxpayers of their obligation to support the library; the County would bear the costs of operation.

A Mr. Joe Reading of Bayport weighed in on the issue. Mr. Reading is a Bayport Public Library Board trustee and chairman of the Bayport Public Library Foundation. He seems to feel that Mr. Rheinberger’s plan has little merit--because if the city decides to relieve us of the burden of taxation by transferring the library to the county, the county must then levy taxes on us to keep the library open. In any case, in light of the County’s current financial constraints, Mr. Reading seriously doubts that it will assume responsibility for our city’s library.

Mr. Reading says that he wrote (in part) because he felt that Mr. Rheinberger had not apprised Gazette readers of all the relevant facts regarding library funding. I am not so sure I agree. Perhaps the omissions were strategic. If Stillwater Library ownership is transferred to the County, and the County refuses to fund it because of budget constraints, and the state refuses to help out due to Governor Pawlenty’s cutbacks--the Stillwater Library will inevitably close. Under this scenario, the County, not Mr. Rheinberger, closes the library and takes the heat. Mr. Rheinberger and his supporters would escape censure, with no biblio-blood on their hands.

Subtle, but perhaps too subtle. I propose a more direct resolution of this knotty problem: burn the Stillwater Public Library to the ground. I assume that the library and its contents are insured; the resulting windfall could then be passed on to the taxpayers in the form of a municipal tax reduction. Problem solved, and the library shows a profit for a change.

Mr. Rheinberger, quite rightly, does not include the library in his list of essential core services that Stillwater taxpayers must fund. Visit the Stillwater Library on any given day, and what do you see? A bunch of kids and retirees, sitting around, reading. Why are we compelled to support this arrant indolence? If I want to read a book, I pull one off the shelf of my private library and read it at home—and I don’t expect the state to send me a check to subsidize this! It is high time that the parasites reading at the public trough receive a wake-up call, in the form of an act of arson in the public interest.

A faint-hearted elected official may quail at the thought of putting such a bold plan into action. But there is at least one historical precedent that indicates that a statesman can set fire to a library without doing any damage to his reputation. Julius Caesar set fire to the Library of Alexandria and went on to enjoy a notable political career for many years afterwards. When was the last time you heard anyone say how much he or she missed the Library of Alexandria?

All that is required is that Mr. Rheinberger engage the services of two or three public-spirited young men, and provide them with some gasoline, old newspapers, and a book of matches. The Stillwater Public Library is practically stuffed with paper; it would go up like a Roman candle. I suggest that the event be scheduled for the early evening, so that local schoolchildren will be free to enjoy the blaze from a safe distance.

I will go further, and make my own opinion a matter of public record. It is probably also the opinion of every thoughtful conservative in Minnesota: I don’t care if Governor Pawlenty and Mr. Rheinberger burn down every public library in the state, so long as my property taxes don’t go up.

William Prendergast is a Stillwater resident and the author of the crime thriller “Forbidden Hollywood”, now available at the Stillwater Public Library.


Post a Comment

<< Home