Opinion

Another chance for Arlington

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Before Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy, before the turn of the twentieth century, public libraries were a rarity. Large collections of books were for the wealthy, for the intellectual elite, and definitely not for commoners.

However, personal experience prompted the industrialist to realize that libraries created opportunities for the working man, and that opportunities lead to empowerment.

Public libraries are somewhat unique institutions. They're a resource of resources that can literally serve a patron from birth to death.Public libraries can complement one's "formal" education, and do so completely independent from public school systems' whims, petty politics and quality levels. Social hierarchies, economic class distinctions, racism, intolerance and other forms of nonsense end at a library's door. Inside a public library, knowledge is king, and everything else is, at least temporarily, insignificant.

In terms of providing a window to, and sanctuary from, the outside world, a public library can be likened to a church. And it would not be entirely blasphemous to say so, as many religions can be found on its shelves.

Ninety years after his death, Carnegie's page-turning philosophies are alive and well, perhaps more so now than ever. Despite and in many cases, because of the Internet's popularity, libraries across the country report ever-increasing usage.

Locally, this phenomenon has led to a call for a new public library to replace Arlington's inadequate facility. Over recent months, supporters have voiced a myriad of valid reasons for a new building. At the top of the list is increased space; compared to others, our library is bookmobile-sized. A larger space with more books, more computers, and more room for educational activities would not only better serve it's current patrons, it would encourage more use. Others look toward Snohomish's and Monroe's beautiful new libraries and correctly mention that a public library is a city's educational heart and cultural soul. Some have invoked politicians' and developers' threats of doubling Arlington's population in coming years how can our overtaxed library possibly serve more residents? Some others have pointed to exponentially increasing construction costs a new library certainly will not be cheaper if we put it off a while longer.

Yes, there will be an increased property tax burden. For the owner of a $300,000 home, the annual charge would approximate the cost of dinner for two (not including drinks, dessert or tip), or the price of a new Wii or Xbox game for the kids.

Indeed, whether or not to build a new public library isn't a financial question; there are plenty of middle-of-nowhere, backwater towns with first-class public schools, public swimming pools and nice public libraries. It's not a matter of keeping up with the Joneses in Monroe and Snohomish. And, when it comes to modernization, the excuse of "Arlington isn't the big city, and people here aren't big-city folks" has become tiring. The term "blue collar" implies hard work, not ignorance.

No, the issue of a new public library is a matter of priorities, of a will to improve one's quality of life, of a desire to demonstrate this town's values to visitors and future generations of residents alike.

It's an embarrassment that so many good people in this community have had to devote so much time towards campaigning for a new library, for there should be no need for a campaign. However, the last library bond measure failed by a very narrow margin, meaning that a significant number of Arlingtonians actually chose ignorance over opportunity and voted against Arlington's future.

But now there is another chance, another opportunity for this town. Come May 20, we'll see where Arlington's priorities and values truly lie.

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