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"It's become the Go space on the seemingly otherwise completely built out Monopoly® board …"

When Ben Franklin first proposed the creation of the US Postal Service, the now-humbled post office, he envisioned a strategy for instilling the presence of the federal government in every town and hamlet in what until then had been a divided collection of colonies. The postmaster would be the duly selected representative of that far distant machine which remained otherwise invisible to the average citizen. Over the past thirty years, successive attempts to manage our postal service as though it was the business its founders never intended have left it no better off than any under-inventoried K-mart awaiting closure. What once carried a grave sense of place and authority now holds all the ambience of an ill-maintained men's room. It's still a go-to starting place to receive a raft of government services, but one feels as though you really need to squint hard and use both hands pulling those services to the surface.

As one after another government service has been slight-sized, many needs now go begging.
The post office might be able to supply that government form, but nobody there knows how to fill it out, especially if you don't speak English and Juan, the part-time contract clerk in the back, is working the night shift that week. The web holds most every form you'd ever need, but here in Denver, fully twenty percent of the people don't have web access at home. The grade schools here got the bright idea to put homework materials on the web, but many more than twenty percent of their students can't access the web from home. The homeless aren't welcome to use most cafe restrooms where they cannot pay for at least a cup of coffee first.

The library, the humble public library, seems to be where the overlooked discards from proper-funded society congregate now. It has become the de-facto home of the homeless, the hotspot for the poor, the source of last resort for a burgeoning community of the otherwise left behind when the older neighborhoods gentrify. Immigrants congregate there looking for clues to adapting in their newly adopted homeland. Geezers like me scour their shelves for the latest James Lee Burke novel, passing through quietly, never disclosing that this passage will be the closest they'll come to human interaction that day. Those still aspiring to own their own computer, use the public library's. Our branch even lends wi-fi hot spots for those unable to afford a Comcast account of their own.

The Denver Public Library hires social workers and stocks Naloxone to administer to addicts who overdose in their public restrooms. They're not just pre-K storytime purveyors. Those who entered library science school thinking they might eventually become bookish introverts with well-practiced scowls, lately find themselves disappointed with their career choice. They're expected to perform community outreach now, and search for solutions to the sloughed off difficulties of society. They represent the scant remaining benevolent face of our government, no institutional green or beige walls, no interminable waiting lines, hardly ever a credit card or cash needed for the many, many services rendered.

Last week, some clown published an op/ed in Forbes explaining how Amazon should replace public libraries to save expenses. The slavering wolves seem to be always at the door, seeking to privatize even the more sacred institutions signifying any semblance of community. Community is socialism, apparently, but also tenaciously social. I feel as though my old Carnegie-Influenced notion of library has evolved into a definite lie, for besides no longer featuring those curving brass cantilevered stair railings that could spark off a finger on a cold winter morning, it's no longer simply a passive repository of books and shushing librarians. It's the default go-to place for help filling out that job or social security application, or to learn where within the otherwise opaque bureaucracy one should go to receive some obscure service. It's become the Go space on the seemingly otherwise completely built out Monopoly® board, a refuge, a damned blessed lie of a place, like the original local post office, almost completely not what it seems from the outside.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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