4000 Books

This is a story about a scrappy band of rebels who triumph over the dark forces of badness. It is a story full of light, or a sad story of evil and neglect. We get to decide which of those it is.

On the very light side of the story is a woman named Margaret Garcia, who is a star. Garcia works for a small middle school/high school in an isolated, rural California county, close to both the Oregon and Nevada borders. She also models and has a blog. Most importantly, she knows how to mobilize the internet. On June 7, 2016, Garcia posted a plea on her blog, where she also talks about family, food, plus-size modeling and shoes. The post wasn’t about those things. It was about the town of Greenville, California, and two high schools, a charter school and the local public school, neither of which had a useful school library. The county provided no money to purchase books, had no salary for a librarian, and couldn’t deal with the challenges of a volunteer librarian. No books had been purchased since the 1990s, and when Garcia flipped through the books that were there, some hadn’t been checked out since the 1980s. The so-called “library” was a room-sized time capsule, not a workable, welcoming space for kids to learn, read and imagine.

Garcia made a simple plea, expressed in the title of the post.

Just. One. Book.

Could every person who read this post send just one book? She included not one, but two addresses, since the school office closes for the month of July. And then, somehow, she got it out there onto the screens of the people who would make it go viral.

And it did.

The response was a tidal wave. After several suggestions, the teachers of the two schools composed an Amazon wish list. Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) shared the post and planned to get involved. The post was linked on Twitter. Bookstores got involved. I linked to it in my weekly World Wide Wednesday post on Fantasy Literature, and I sent 2 boxes of books.

By the end of June, Garcia was laughingly, tearfully, joyfully asking people to stop sending books, please! The wish list was cleaned out, and they had 4,000 books. She collected 4,000 books in less than four weeks.

(This post shows some pictures of students, and the community, working together on a Friday to turn boxes of books into a library.)

As I said, the scrappy band of rebels wins! They destroy the death-star of the time-capsule, and create a real, useful library. It’s a win for Greenville, California and a win for the kids in that county.  At least for now.

It’s a win for the internet. This is something the internet does really well; it lets people who want to help really help. It lets you send money; but it also lets you send goods to people who need them; flood or hurricane survivors who need drinking water, first aid kits or blankets,emergency supplies to families of victims of mass shootings… or books to kids who desperately need books.

And I felt good. I had passed along the message, I sent two boxes of books, I had helped.

Since I’m a contrarian, though, I have to wonder about the evil empire that has not been crushed and defeated by this victory.

That “evil empire,” of course, isn’t any such thing. It’s just a funding system for public schools that guarantees the funding will plunge when an economy plunges, and does not adjust for seismic economic shifts that can rock small towns, particularly isolated rural ones. The evil empire is public school funding that is inadequate to fund a working library; and more seriously (and more evil) an underlying philosophy that reading isn’t important anymore, hence libraries don’t really matter.

That is the true evil empire, and I say that as someone who lives in a county where our libraries still aren’t open on Mondays.

Garcia made it to the transmitter in the top of the secret base; she sent out the message, and the rebel fleet arrived to deliver 4,000 books.  The rebel fleet did not bring bookshelves, a librarian, or a dedicated book-buying fund. (Is some kind of dedicated book-buying fund a possibility?)

The triumphant rebel fleet did not change the reality of the school district’s finances (although it may have provided some insight about the importance of libraries).

This is a win. It is a big win. But what will the Greenville Schools library do in a year? In three years? In five?

Probably, they’ll hope that Margaret Garcia is still in town.

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