Black Rock Desert BookThough I just posted a story about a university library re-opening with no books, having no books is not necessarily a desirable condition for all libraries. Mother Nature Network has a story that looks at “book deserts”—areas where it’s extremely difficult for kids to get their hands on books. (We carried a story about a kid apparently stuck in one such area a few days ago.)

It’s a sad truth that many public schools no longer have libraries. According to one teacher in Los Angeles, 83 percent of L.A. middle schools don’t have a librarian and aren’t allowed to keep the library open with volunteers. (The schools only have 98 librarians for 1,309 schools!) Most charter schools don’t have libraries due to funding.

It’s a bit of a puzzler, isn’t it? Agency pricing aside, books are cheaper now than at pretty much any time in the last several hundred years before, and yet there are still so many places where you can’t get them. E-books aren’t necessarily a solution, either, the author points out, as e-book devices get stolen in some places and there’s little Internet access in other places.

Some problems just don’t seem to have easy solutions. But we’ll keep trying to bridge the digital divide. After all, if they can get e-books to kids in Africa, surely there is something that will work here in the USA.


  1. Alas, I know all about book deserts. In 2012, I moved from Seattle to the Southern college town where I got my engineering degree. Seattle was becoming too expensive for my writer’s budget. Auburn is much cheaper.

    In Seattle, I could get, via the city’s public library, almost any interesting book, including new ones. In Auburn, the public library is filled with books, but they are trash—shelf after shelf bestselling thrillers and romances that bear no relationship to the real world. The books seem almost intentionally written to allow their readers to maintain all their illusions about how the world works.

    Sadly, I also know why. I grew up in the segregated South and I have seen fade away, one by one, all the Detroit-like social pathologies that the Democratic party imposed on the region, pathologies that benefited the party’s wealthy cotton plantation and timber baron patrons, but kept Southern whites and blacks poor.

    The one remaining pathology that’s a legacy of the era of segregation is an indifference to the world of ideas, best seen by the South’s almost insane obsession with sports, particularly football and basketball. The reason is obvious. Those who get interested in ideas would have soon found themselves challenging the region’s corrupt, white supremacy, one-party rule. That must not been. Best to keep them hating the other race and obsessed with something that matters not—sports.


    Those who discuss book deserts should keep in mind what that illustrates, that a community’s culture is often the cause of that book desert rather than an effect. Communities that value books have good libraries. Those that do not, don’t.

    I saw that in a Seattle neighborhood where I lived and a summer I spent in Washington, D.C. In Seattle, my local library was the busiest in the city. A librarian who worked there told me that so many of its books were checked out that it had three times as many books assigned as shelf space. Every time I went there, it was filled with patrons. Why? To a great extent because the neighborhood was heavily Jewish. There were two Jewish synagogues within a block of the library.

    In contrast, in Washington, D.C. the closest public library to where I lived was in a black neighborhood. Even on the hottest day, I would often be the only person there other than the staff. The library had so many books unchecked out, that they were stacked high on top of the shelves. Even the fact that the city as a whole funded a library there couldn’t conceal the fact that this one existed in a desert of readers. Elsewhere, a desert of readers can lead to a desert of libraries.


    Keep in mind that effects like a disinterest in ideas often have causes. Many of our educational woes, from an dismal and dysfunctional public system to encouraging an obsession with sports or sex are intended to maximize the number of voters with no interest in or ability to live in the world of thought—thought that allows people to see through the lies of politicians and not vote for scoundrels and incompetence. That’s why I tell people that if they want to understand why the South remained dysfunctional and impoverished for a century after the Civil War, you need only turn to Detroit. The same politics of envy, bigotry and victimhood that kept the South down has turned what was once one of the wealthiest cities in the country into a hell-hole.


    You know what one of the greatest tragedies in this country is? I see it all the time. It’s the obsession with racial identity that what passes for black leadership in this country impose on most black people. Other Americans, whatever their background, have varied interests. Whites don’t have to be Irish to have an interest in reading about Irish history. They are simply curious. In contrast, blacks are pushed to only read from the approved black grievance list such as that typically promoted by Black History month.

    Whites don’t regard this hobby or that recreational interest as being only for one ethnic group. They do everything from playing chess to stock car racing. But the black community’s self-serving leadership doesn’t see encouraging that broadness since it is not in their narrow self-interest. Blacks might mix it up too much with whites and become less likely to vote their racial identity. It’s same obsession with race that was so bad for Southern whites being repeated in the black community. That’s why the best understanding of what long-term segregationist LBJ was doing between 1965 and 1968 was to transfer the political tactics the Democratic party has used to get a knee-jerk Southern white vote to the black people to ensure what we see today, a knee-jerk black vote for Democrats.


    A century ago, with the horrors of World War I in every one’s mind, there was a powerful movement to destroy nationalism and even to create a world state that was supposed to impose peace on the world. H. G. Wells was one of its champions. G. K. Chesterton was one of its critics. I describe that in Chesterton on War and Peace.

    Chesterton’s arguments were impressive. These internationalist, he said, were people who “loved every country but their own.” While recognizing that the League of Nations was likely to be ineffective at keeping the peace, he also warned that many of those behind it want it to be a league intended to destroy independent nations.

    Chesterton also had a marvelous answer to those who wanted to destroy nationalism by destroying any teaching of patriotism in schools. He said that, if he has his wishes, every school child would grow learning not just a love for his own country, but an understanding of why others love their country. French children, he said, should be taught about great Germans and vice-versa.

    Its not hard to see that many of today’s politicians want to prevent just that broadening of minds. They want a divided nation in which each group (and sex or class) is taught to hate the others. The rich, however they earned their money, are the evil “1%.”Women on college campuses are taught that their male classmates, particularly those in fraternities, are rapists. Blacks in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods are taught that the police, which they desperately need, are their enemies. Divided by hate, each group is more easily exploited.

    One answer to that is, of course, not just books but books that open minds. That’s why I adapted Albion Tourgee’s 1879 novel A Fool’s Errand, into a young adult novel, Lily’s Ride. In it, Tourgee, one of the foremost champion of civil rights in late 19th century America, describes how both poor blacks and whites were victims of post-Civil War white supremacy. The two were to be divided, not learning to respect and appreciate the other. And a key part of that evil agenda was to keep both functionally illiterate.

    We should not kid ourselves. There are powerful people in politics who want to keep up a nation poorly educated and angry with one another. I saw that growing up under segregation. I see it today.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

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