Educating Paul Ryan: A Defense of Public Libraries

By Christopher Lotito

In early 2014 it was announced that House Budget Committee Chairman, Republican Paul Ryan, had introduced a federal budget for 2015 which eliminated funding for libraries, museums, and cultural preservation nationwide.

...but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here:

Ablah Library @ WSU
Ablah Library @ WSU (Photo credit: brentdanley)
1) This is nothing surprising from Paul Ryan.  Paul Ryan’s political beliefs are so far from the mainstream that in some regards he defies labeling.  However, Ryan is an avowed Objectivist, a proponent of Ayn Rand’s political philosophy which posits that in a majority of cases, government and government regulation should be wholly replaced by free market capitalism.  In 2012, Romney publicly rejected Objectivism near the same time he was named as Mitt Romney’s running mate.  Historically, Ryan voted for both the $700-billion Bush bank bailout and the auto industry bailout.  He has actively, and unsuccessfully, worked to gut Medicare since 2008.

2) Ryan’s budget will never pass.  Paul Ryan’s proposed FY15 budget, eliminating libraries and museums, passed the Republican controlled congress, but failed to receive support from several key Republican figures, including Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.  Donald Trump openly attacked Ryan’s budget, implying that such an extremist political position would alienate moderate Republican voters.  Mike Huckabee also made statements critical of the budget.  Regardless, the budget will likely not even see a vote in the Democratically controlled Senate.

3) The budget is political showboating, probably in a bid by Ryan for the 2016 presidential candidacy. Paul Ryan has been previously noted as the dream VP for the ultra-conservative Tea Party Movement.  This is likely why he was chosen to run along Mitt Romney previously.  In addition to eliminating federal grants for libraries, museums, and even higher education, Ryan’s budget also includes a ten year plan to defund and then repeal public healthcare, including dismantling large portions of Medicare and Medicaid.  Even if Ryan was president with both the House and the Senate Republican controlled (which has happened perhaps 8 times ever), the budget still represents such a massive change in government policy as to fundamentally alter the course of the United States as a nation.  The last time the government attempted to impact individual citizens wallets in such a broad manner, 17,000 World War I soldiers marched on Washington in what became known as the “Bonus March.”  Our Own Soldiers.  All levels of government are likely aware they’d face a similar response to any budget as broad in scope as Ryan’s, regardless of its originator.

I mention all of this not take a political position or to endorse bipartisanship (or even tripartisanship with the Tea Party these days), but to make it clear that Paul Ryan’s budget is a political maneuver designed to garner media attention, which it has, not an immediate challenge to the funding of these programs.

So why worry about DC’s political showboating in Pequannock, Lincoln Park, Riverdale, Kinnelon, or anywhere else?  The risk in Ryan’s budget is that it represents a challenge to the value of the programs which it seeks to defund.  Small-town America, which we are most certainly in, needs to remind itself as well as DC that our children’s futures, the promotion of literacy, the job search services provided by public libraries, remembering our nation’s past, and all of the other benefits provided by libraries, museums, and cultural centers are essential to the American way of life.  Without these things, we lose our identity and without our identity we lose our way as a nation.  Benjamin Franklin knew this when he founded not only the first, but the first two libraries in the United States.  This is why an ill-considered, poorly supported budget with a snowball’s chance in the oven of being passed yet calls for a robust and public rebuttal.

Surprisingly, that rebuttal will not come from me.  Instead, please consider the words of Library Director Rose Garwood from Pequannock Township in the interview which follows.  Where Ms. Garwood has helpfully offered her years of experience and hard work as testimony, I have supplemented with researched statistics.

How did you first learn of the budgetary cuts to federal funding for libraries in Paul Ryan’s proposed budget and were you surprised when you heard? [Editor in Bold]

I got the word from an [New Jersey Library Association] NJLA email alert. At first I was surprised that the Museum and Libraries Institute would be totally eliminated but when I read the info over, I was appalled to see that the National Endowment for the Humanities would also disappear. [Ms. Garwood in Italics]

[Ed: Paul Ryan’s proposed budget would eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which has awarded 127 grants to New Jersey institutions since 1997 including museums and libraries in Ridgewood, Madison, Morristown, Montclair, Wayne, and many more.  The IMLS has paid out $13,275,112 to New Jersey alone since 2010.  One of the main programs IMLS administers is the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarians Program, indicating that contrary to what one might think, the IMLS is hardly the Democrat social welfare machine that some of Ryan’s supporters have implied.  The National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds things like preservation events at the Vietnam War Memorial, would also be eliminated under Ryan’s plan.  Surprisingly, Ryan’s plan would also eliminate AmeriCorps and FEMA Corps, programs which coordinate a massive number of unpaid volunteers within US borders each year.]

How much funding does a local library typically receive from the federal government?

It’s hard to say. I’ve been in touch with the Library Association. The really expensive databases that we have in the library and that also our patrons can access on-line from home or work would be gone. Some of the money goes into our state aid, which has dwindled terribly over the years as it is.

[Ed: A 2011 note on the Pequannock Library website states, “Headlines were made when Governor Christie’s budget called for a 74% decrease in funding for statewide library services. Once state funding is eliminated, NJ will lose $4.5 million in federal funding. In addition to this, July is quickly approaching, and libraries across the state are worriedly awaiting the results of A2555, an act concerning the funding of free municipal public libraries that was introduced by Assemblyman John DiMaio.” -- Also worth noting, Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin has received millions of dollars in funding to its libraries alone from some 153 federal grants in recent memory. A number of those were to Paul Ryan's mother's Alma Mater, University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she attended school to increase her employability following the tragic death of Ryan's father at the age of 55. Equally ironic, much of those funds came from the Republican founded "Laura Bush 21st Century Librarians Program." Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin has had a public library since 1874. That town has received multiple grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Ryan's college, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio received a federal grant in 2007 for historic preservation in support of its museum. Ryan attended Miami University using the Social Security payments his mother received following his father's death.]

How is the amount of that federal funding determined and is that typical for towns in this area?

It’s the case in every town in NJ.

[Ed: This is putting it mildly.  Without the IMLS, the Morris County Heritage Commission would likely cease to function as a grant providing organization.  Many libraries, including libraries at public universities and the New Jersey State Library system would have to massively cut their programs as well.  For a full list of recipients of these grants, search here:]

What has that federal funding paid for in the past?

Databases, state aid. I’m sure there are other things. Grants that would help the Berry House [a 1720 farmstead in Pequannock] would disappear, and chances to preserve our communities’ history, our sense of who we are and where we came from in NJ.

[Ed: Paul Ryan’s budget has a surprising and serious side effect: support services for the blind would be largely eliminated overnight.  While traditional tape libraries and such might continue to operate on a limited basis, many of the recent advances in the offering of audio books via ereader are subscription based and would be immediately eliminated.  Students and researchers would also lose access to genealogical, newspaper, and academic subscriptions like Ebsco, Proquest, Facts on File, and dozens of others.  What was once a place of learning would become a large room with a few computers and a lot of rapidly aging books within a year.]

If the federal funding were eliminated, how long would it be before the Pequannock Library closed its doors?

Our doors wouldn’t close but our services would greatly diminish. No library can afford to purchase those expensive databases on their own.

[Ed:  The reality of the situation is that without federal funding, nearly every “extra” that the library offers, from community programs, to digital subscriptions, software, and more would be defunded in order to keep the doors open.  Purchasing of new releases would decrease and wait times for those books would be much longer with interlibrary loans only complicating the matter.]

Can you foresee library funding coming only from municipalities and the state?  What kind of issues would this cause?

Every few years we experience this phenomenon where every level of government: county, state, and federal, all decide someone else should be doing it and try to cop out. In this case, it’s worse,  because they are talking about totally eliminating the federal department of Museums and Libraries and the National Endowment for the Humanities. So there won’t even be anything left to build on later.  

Would it be of benefit for libraries to be privately funded, perhaps by generous corporations, as Paul Ryan has suggested?

That kind of money isn’t out there. A company may make a gift to the library in its community but it’s not anything that can sustain operating costs.

[Ed: What kind of information would students find when researching the Bhopal Disaster in a library funded by donations from Dow Chemical?  How quickly would frequently banned books like Darwin’s Origin of Species, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 go back on the list as organizations with political agendas started buying tax deductions through donations to local libraries and the influence that comes with those donations?]

Do you believe that Republican Paul Ryan’s budget will pass the Democratically dominated Senate?  Why should citizens pay attention or speak up if this is all just political showboating?

I hope it doesn’t pass. It’s very scary. Libraries are the foundation of democracy, the equalizer of all income levels. They offer the same opportunities to everyone. Without them, only the rich would have full access to information. It’s not all out there for free on the internet. So many people need help with on-line access who would be shut out. We don’t want a world where information is just for those who can afford it.  I don’t think we’d get this back with bake sales and knocking on doors for donations. Freedom of information is our right.

[Ed: A short list of library resources not available freely via the Internet:

  • Local History Books
  • Municipal Records
  • Genealogy Databases
  • The New York Times
  • Cemetery Records
  • Many, many expensive college textbooks via Interlibrary Loan

Books and Movies Locked-Down via Copyright Extension:
  • Samuel Beckett, Endgame (“Fin de partie”, the original French version)
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (completed 1951, published 1957)
  • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
  • Margret Rey and H.A. Rey, Curious George Gets a Medal
  • Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
  • Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables
  • Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
  • Walter Lord, Day of Infamy
  • Studs Terkel, Giants of Jazz
  • Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, The Three Faces of Eve
  • Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
  • Ann Weldy (as Ann Bannon), Odd Girl Out
  • A.E. Van Vogt, Empire of the Atom
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man (Based on Richard Matheson’s 1956 book The Shrinking Man)
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean), Best Actor (Alec Guinness); also starring William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa)
  • A Farewell to Arms (Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones)
  • Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas)
  • 3:10 to Yuma (1957 original starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin)
  • Island in the Sun (James Mason, Joan Fontaine, Dorothy Dandridge, and introducing Harry Belafonte)
  • Witness for the Prosecution (Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester)
  • 12 Angry Men (Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, and more)
  • Sweet Smell of Success (Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis)
  • Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley)
  • The Prince and the Showgirl (Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe)
  • Funny Face (Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire . . . and Paris as only Hollywood can imagine it)
  • An Affair to Remember (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr . . . and the Empire State Building)
  • Nights of Cabiria (written and directed by Federico Fellini and starring Giulietta Masina)
  • The Seventh Seal (written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot)
  • What’s Opera, Doc? (Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd do Wagner)
  • The first episodes of Leave It to Beaver and Perry Mason
  • Elvis Presley’s third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957

  At ChristopherLotito.Org, subscribers will find all the information they need to educate themselves and their families about the issues that effect their lives.  A Drew University graduate, Christopher Lotito is a 10 year veteran volunteer within his municipal government in Pequannock, New Jersey.  Lotito is also an accomplished local author and possesses a great depth of knowledge in both New Jersey history and flood control issues which he puts to use as an independent researcher.

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