Cod Fish And Libraries

You’ve heard of the cod fish.

It’s a long white bottom feeder that lives in the North Atlantic waters and has been a coveted commodity for eons. Because it could be easily salted and dried, it sustained mankind for hundreds of years as the first preserved food in history.

Some historians say that the continuity of man can be credited to the cod.

What you might not know about this fish is that in the true sense of the word, it has long been on its way to extinction. Overfishing is the cause. In the 1990s, Canada called a moratorium on the capture of this ocean creature for commercial interest.

And this, you should know, was a very big deal.

It put people out of work – especially the men who fished Cod – and whose forbearers had been fishing them forever. And the cessation of cod fishing trickled down in a negative way to the workers whose lives revolved around them – even for the waitresses who served them.

It was hoped the fish would regenerate. In a few years, it was said, the fish would be plentiful again and everyone would get back to work.

But that hasn’t happened.

Scientists now worry that when a fish is nearing extinction, the biology of the water changes and will no longer support that particular species again. Odds are that the cod will never be as prolific as they once were.

Which brings me, if you will, to the subject of libraries.

When something – like a library – is threatened by extinction, it seems that we don’t react until it’s gone. And I fear that we might adjust to the absence of books as easily as we might to the absence of fish.

I attended a library board meeting Tuesday night in Lakewood, and Eli Guinnee walked into the Lakewood Public Library like a man who knows what he’s talking about. He held a few binders, wore a nice tie and played with two rubber bands while he spoke. He’s all about the business of libraries, and he’s good at seeing reality. And he’s certainly the kind of guy you want to talk to when you have an underfunded library and you’re looking for ways to keep the heat on. Or the doors open.

Eli is the managing director of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, which is a cooperative library system chartered by the NYS Regents to serve the 36 public libraries in our two-county area. He was in Lakewood on Tuesday to address the board about the library’s health and to discuss its options.

“These are tough times for our library system,” he said. “There are libraries that won’t exist in five years.”

In other words, some libraries are going the way of the cod, and not just here in our counties, but all over the state.

You know, when you poll people from a town or a village or a city, everyone wants to keep their local library open. “Oh, we have to have a library,” they say. But when it comes down to measures to keep them open, they’re against it, or they use its demise to keep their taxes down, or they’re just too busy to care.

There are tax-friendly options that can help keep libraries open, and we have to be proactive in pursuing them. We have to see libraries as the community centers that they are: A place to borrow, to read, to dream, to pursue-a place where people without computers can look for a job or read the newspaper.

Libraries were a lot more important before computers came around. But just because you have your own computer den doesn’t mean everyone else does. There are people who use the library to get Internet service and to search for things – and not just that, but to borrow books or read to their grandchildren or to study for a test.

It used to be that information was a commodity that was rare or expensive. Benjamin Franklin changed all that when he proposed the idea of a public library – where anyone could borrow knowledge for free. And there’s no arguing with the fact that knowledge is the tool that ensures our evolution, so it must be accessible to the common man.

So here it is: The word to remember today is “cod.”

Extinction is a bigger word. And it means permanence. The kind of permanence we so dislike-but often when all is said and done. If you’re asked to donate or contribute to or politically support our local libraries, please pay attention to the call.

Remember what happened to the cod. And make sure that the proverbial waters in our towns and villages don’t become environments that aren’t supportive of our important institutions.

Here’s a statement that none of us should ever make: Once upon a time, there were cod fish and libraries.