Why Johnny Can't Read




Dear Senator Corzine:

 I wouldn't have moved to your sweet state if I didn't think I would love it-- or at least believe there as a greater sense of freedom here than other place I've been. But recently, I've come to question the power of some of New Jersey's institutions.

 I do not mean government so much as an appendage of it which has come to mean something sinister to me. I am startled at the creeping power N.J.libraries have over our lives.

 Elsewhere, libraries have been my best friend, helping me over loneliness and boredom, dragging me out of ignorance. I have often considered it a great and sacred privilege to have had access to one wherever I have lived. This faith, however, was shaken upon moving to your fair state.

 Being new in town and bored, I naturally went to the local library for a few books. But the hours were so restrictive I had to make an appointment to apply for a card. They wanted three pieces of identification, proof of citizenship, and an FBI fingerprint check of a criminal record.

 I was outraged. I thought for forgo my own library and pay a fee to a neighboring town to use their facility. They said I wasn't welcome-- something to do with insurance woes and the possible danger of me dropping a book on my foot. I couldn't even lie and give them a false address. The library computers were apparently hooked up to motor vehicle. Not only did they know where I lived, but the kind of car I drove and how far I had to go daily to work.

 Reluctantly, I submitted to the indignity of the application process. I had heard tales of how New Jersey small towns hated outsiders, but this had become absurd.

 Yet it was no more absurd than when I went to pick up my card three weeks later and discovered I'd been rejected. Apparently, a full computer check of my past had uncovered a missing book in my home town library from when I was eight years old.

 I naturally offered to pay the cost of the book. But this was not enough. Not only did they want the present-day inflation-adjusted book value, but also the accumulated daily fines plus interest.

 The figure was astronomical!

 I was also informed that if I failed to make arrangements to settle the matter, I would go to jail!

 Of course, I settled. It seems the library had a program for taking specific amounts out of my weekly pay. They will also impound my tax refund, local, state and federal, and have put a negative statement on my credit portfolio. They are also using my basement and spare rooms to store their excess books... Isn't there some kind of law?


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