I grew up in the small town of Yreka, CA (“Yreka Bakery” backwards is…) that sits just minutes south of the Oregon-California border on Interstate 5. Yreka, population a little over 7000 brave souls, is the county seat of Siskiyou county. Siskiyou county is “god’s country” meaning, yes, (a) it votes strongly Republican and (b) its scenery is awesome:
Siskiyou county is, however, not a wealthy part of the United States (yes, if you measure wealth in dollars :)) Unemployment in the county is currently 19 percent (not seasonally adjusted), the median income is $29,530, and about 18 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Most employment is in the services or retail trade, with government and agriculture/mining/timber being the next highest employers. The collapse of the timber industry during the 70s and 80s took a hard toll on the county and no industry has really arisen to take its place.
As you might imagine, given the above facts, the recent recession has cause some financial hardships for Siskiyou county. It comes as no surprise, then to read an article in the local newspaper, the Siskiyou Daily News, regarding drastic cuts in the funding of the Siskyou County library. The county is running a $3.7 million deficit, and many cuts are now on the county supervisor’s agenda. Among the cuts is one that hits dear to my heart, cutting the county library’s budget from $712,000 to $50,000, the later being enough to keep the utilities running at the library buildings. The county library in Siskiyou county is in danger of dying.
Read about this made me sad. Now I’m not a bystander without personal interest in this situation: my handicapped sister has worked or volunteered at the county library in Yreka for many many years. The “gainful” employment the library has given her has been a blessing for her and, I think, for those who get to spend time with someone who is much more wonderful than her oafish brother. It would be a shame if her job where to end, not because she costs the county much (she is a volunteer now) but because it brings great joy to her day, and I suspect, to many people who interact with her.
But I’m also sad for a different reason. I’m sad because of Spacetime Physics 1ST Edition. 1st edition, peoples, not the later editions! I picked up this book from the county library at who knows what age and learned all about special relativity (chapter 1 is available here: note the dog and spaceship.) Indeed learning about hyperbolic sine and hyperbolic cosine were of great use when I finally, years later, had to learn trigonometry (which I taught myself in order to calculate how the size of the moon’s shadow is changed by refraction in the earth’s atmosphere. NERD!)
I’m sad because of a county library Calculus book whose author I do not remember, but where I first learned about Newton’s (and friend’s) great discovery involving wacko ideas like limits and infinitesimals. It will come as no surprise to learn that I was led to this book by a book on quantum theory. The quantum theory book started out with a discussion of something called blackbody radiation, and it was very important that the big sigma (I new this stood for a sum) was used instead of a big flat “S.” A science teacher said “Ah that’s an integral sign from Calculus.” Ah the indignation of having to learn calculus before you could learn quantum theory (now we know better!)
I’m sad because of all of the back issues of Scientific American with their wonderful articles on the game of life, computer bugs that evolved, and tinkertoy machines for playing tic-tac-toe (and whose author, in later life, seems to have become rather sadly confused.)
I’m sad for all of the many popular science books on the “mysteries” of quantum theory that allowed me, when it came time to really learn quantum theory, to know exactly where the line to those mysteries lay and that crossing that line tonight at 2 a.m. was not going to help me solve my problem set by 10 a.m. I’m sad for A Brief History of Time, From the Big Bang to Black Holes where I learned that I disagreed with Hawking about many things, none of them involving physics.
Now I can’t say that I’ve been any great contribution to my country, given how big of a user of its library I once was. I live in Seattle and visit Yreka only occasionally now. But I do know with high certainty that a major factor in me ending up with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and performing research on quantum computing can be traced back to that county library. And I’m guessing that for many others the library has provided a path towards their own self-education: may it be on black holes, sewing, or learning about the history of the world. If I had a soapbox I’d probably also go on about studies showing businesses not moving to the county due to it’s low literacy rate. But enough of the political whining. Tonight, I’m just going to be sad for the future kids who don’t even know that they just lost one more opportunity to expand and better their future world.