the problem with solutions

There was an essay by Maurice Isserman in the New York Times Book Review a couple weeks ago about Michael Harrington and his 1962 book The Other America: Poverty in the United States. It’s a nice piece, but supposing you don’t want to go read it yourself, Isserman outlines how the book affected public policy in subsequent decades and how those policies did — and mostly did not — work to end poverty in America, which is still rampant.

Lyndon B. Johnson was one fan of the book, and his administration famously declared a War on Poverty but did not fund that war particularly well. “The resulting legislation,” Isserman notes, “passed in August 1964, provided funds for preschool education, community action agencies, legal services and the like, but did little directly to provide jobs and income for the poor.”

That line stopped me dead.

The legislation provided funds for preschool education, community action agencies, legal services and the like, but did little directly to provide jobs and income for the poor.

The legislation, in other words, funded services that were supposed to help the poor, but it did nothing to address what actually made them poor.

It stopped me dead because it reminded me so much of the kinds of services that have been established to help small rural libraries (and, for that matter, libraries of all sizes in poor areas) with technology. There are all kinds of services out there that will let you learn about technology — SirsiDynix Institute webinars and courses and discussions on WebJunction and downloadable Cookbooks from the Maintain IT Project — but there aren’t any that will provide what you probably most need — a dedicated library IT support person.

There probably is not any way to provide that solution. The people exist, but the money to pay them does not. Of course, we haven’t solved poverty yet, either. In the meantime, we stumble forward and backward, patching things together as best we can.

One thought on “the problem with solutions”

  1. Your analogy is probably all the more telling if we think about federal stimulus funds that could end up bringing increased broadband services to small, rural public libraries. The pipes will be there but the ability to build technology services probably won’t be….

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