Guest opinion by Senator Mike Crapo
What entity serves two-thirds of the United Statesâ?? population expending less than two percent of all tax dollars? Hereâ??s a hint: there are more of them than there are McDonaldâ??s restaurants. With a Borders, Barnes and Noble and/or Hastings in each of Idahoâ??s major cities, and a wide variety of home entertainment accessible by cable, satellite or the Internet, you might be surprised to learn that Americans visit public libraries 1.2 billion times a year, borrowing over two billion books, CDs, videos and more. In fact, a 2006 American Library Association poll indicates the top use of libraries today is Internet and computer use. Access to the World Wide Web is especially important in Idaho, considering that although approximately two-thirds of Idaho homes have Internet access, there are thousands of households that do not, especially in rural areas. September not only means the start of another school year; itâ??s also National Library Card Sign-up Month. This is a perfect time to pick up library cards for the family, if you donâ??t already have them. Libraries hold the keys to a universe of possibility for people of all ages: families can plan a vacation; parents can research home improvement; children can find the latest mystery or adventure stories; borrowers can check out movies or even books on tape for travel; all at a negligible cost--provided materials are returned on time, of course! And public libraries are working hard to ensure that young Internet users are safe from the perils of Internet predators and pornography, so that parents donâ??t worry when their children are online at their local library. Libraries have a lengthy and rich tradition in the history of civilization. As long as there has been written language, people have recorded histories, traditions and ways of life. Records of law, technology, philosophy, religion and even business transactions dating to 2500 B.C. exist in Akkadian, one of civilizationâ??s first written languages. Remarkably, many remain preserved today and some are housed in libraries in the United States and abroad. One of the oldest library systems in the world is at Oxford University, which opened its first library in 1320, although it was not public. And, while not the oldest but much closer to home, our very own Library of Congress holds the honor of being the largest in the world with over 130 million items including manuscripts, books, photographs and maps. In addition to touring the magnificent buildings and reading rooms, visitors can register for a reader card which grants access privileges to many of the libraryâ??s vast holdings. Late in life, Thomas Jefferson noted to a friend that â??I am far from presuming to direct the reading of my fellow citizens, who are good enough judges themselves of what is worth their reading." Jefferson, who sold over 6,400 of his own books to help start the Library of Congress, knew the importance of reading and an educated electorate. Perhaps, most importantly, he recognized that a successful democracy provides a myriad of education and enrichment reading resources recognizing and respecting many individual interests. With modern technology, the Internet and interlibrary loan, most Idahoans donâ??t have to leave their community to access vast collections held by libraries such as the Library of Congress, some university libraries and even libraries overseas. And likely as not, one of the over 140 public libraries in Idahoâ??the one in your local community--may have exactly what you need. Take time this month to stop by your local library, talk to a librarian and, with library card in hand, delve into a world of limitless possibilities.