Letters from readers on what matters in Lafayette.

LETTER: Lafayette Parish library and economics

Library building with flag in front
Photo by Travis Gauthier

Local Voices • Letters from readers on what matters in Lafayette

It appears that groups who are unenthusiastic about our libraries are working to undo decades of work. This is a mistake.

Currently, Lafayette has more libraries, per capita, than any other parish in the state, and we are trying to add another. Is that a waste of resources? Or is it a canny strategy? We should be running government like a business. And the investment in our libraries is very, very smart money.

For instance, there have been suggestions to prevent people living outside of the parish from using the library, or charging them a fee. I am a physician living in St. Landry Parish, and 97% of my family's discretionary income is spent in Lafayette Parish. I pay taxes on two rental houses in Lafayette. In the past six months I bought two cars in Lafayette. When I go into Lafayette to use the library, I also buy groceries, shop for clothes, go to the hardware store, see my doctor and my accountant, take my kids to music and art lessons, eat out, and go to plays, concerts, and festivals.

We would be hard-pressed to find an out-of-parish library patron who drives into town, checks out some books, and goes home. All of us spend money while we're here.

Why would merchants and professionals want to discourage more customers and clients? Why would Lafayette give people one less reason to drive into town?

There was is talk of limiting out-of-parish UL and SLCC students from using the library, as well.

We are all supportive of tourism. The average family comes to Lafayette for a weekend, and spends about $800, including hotel stays.

But 66% of UL and SLCC students come from outside of Lafayette Parish. On average, they dump about $20,000 in our laps each year. Now that's tourism.

But that's not the end of it. Many of those students will stay in Lafayette, and become professionals, and managers, and entrepreneurs. UL is the smartest long-term investment Lafayette has, by far.

Why would Lafayette business leaders want to discourage these students from using the library? Why would we want to give them one less reason to enroll here, and one less reason to stay here after they graduate?

Woven into the preceding, the world is transitioning. Robots are taking over assembly lines, and people who build things with their hands are disappearing. This will happen in the shrinking oil patch.

But it will also happen in medicine. My job will be in jeopardy in the future.

If we are to grow, we need innovators, programmers, engineers and designers. These people are what Richard Florida calls “the Creative Class.” They are the key to the future.

Those in the Creative Class do not choose just any city to live and work. They are not attracted by government enticements, civic boosterism and industrial recruiters.

They are attracted by tolerance and culture. The Creative Class chooses to live in towns with a vibrant cultural life, those with music, plays, arts, restaurants. And books. The Creative Class wants a town with lots of bookstores and libraries, and with citizens who read widely and passionately.

Why would Lafayette businesses want to give innovators one less reason to locate here?

If we are to run government like a business, then we want to run it like a good business, one that considers the entire spreadsheet. The library is just one cell in our ledgers, one which at first glance looks like a loss. But it is really a loss leader; it funnels money to all the other cells. The library pulls in constant, recurrent “tourists” from other parishes, and other states, and it attracts students and future leaders, and it attracts cutting-edge industry.

A strong library system is essential to the growth of Lafayette. So rather than shrink library services, the city-parish government and the library board need to sit down with industry, education, tourism, the arts and law enforcement, and explain what the library does for each of them.

Rather than slash the library, business and government need to ask what more the library can do to help the economy, progress and our quality of life.

This library is a brilliant investment. We shouldn't start short-selling shares just because it has a long-term ROI.

Because the fact is, education and libraries are the best investments we have for the future.

Joseph N. Abraham is a physician, research biologist and the award-winning author of Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation.