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Alaskan Range: Erroneous Assumptions

"The Internet is a river of information a mile wide and an inch deep; you must pay to get really in-depth information,'' says librarian Greg Hill.

Shortly after the natural disasters in Japan, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a list of earthquake myths. The first was, “Why are we having so many earthquakes? Has earthquake activity been increasing?” Big events devastating populous areas are more noticeable than when they strike places few people live, so it just seems like there are more earthquakes.

In fact, the USGS states, “Earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.”

One reason for the misconception is there are many more seismograph stations operating today; only 350 existed worldwide in 1931 and were connected by telegraph, but now more than 4,000 are linked by computers and satellites.

Erroneous assumptions based on faulty or insufficient thinking are post hoc fallacies, “a fallacy with the following form: 1. A occurs before B. 2. Therefore A is the cause of B.”

A library-related post hoc example would be “The Internet provides access to all the information I need, and that makes libraries irrelevant.”

In fact, the Internet is a river of information a mile wide and an inch deep; you must pay to get really in-depth information. Besides, librarians have been collecting, organizing and disseminating information for 5,000 years. Today, we deal with information in digital formats instead of clay tablets, but the underlying functions, and the need for them, remain unchanged.

Last year, a Gates Foundation study of public library use found “that 69 percent of the American population uses libraries, and 50 percent of the population aged 14 to 18 is using libraries — an unusually high statistic for any study.”

They also surveyed why Americans use their libraries. “General areas identified by respondents were: social connection (60 percent), education (42 percent), employment (40 percent), health and wellness (37 percent), government and legal matters (34 percent), community (33 percent), managing finances (25 percent) and entrepreneurship (7 percent, and likely the most rapidly expanding area).”

Little imagination is required to see how those pursuits make their communities better places.

Another post hoc fallacy is the idea that e-books’ increased popularity means print books are doomed. Sales of e-books ballooned last year, but a million new print books were published then, too. Many people, young and old, prefer reading print.

Most e-books cost money, too, but they can be downloaded for free from your public library. Digital will never completely replace print, for economic and sentimental reasons. Nothing digital comes close to acid-free print for centuries-long data storage, and the experience of reading a picture-book to a young child is a sensory experience. Surrounded by loving arms, turning big, colorful pages, creating your own little theatrical experience that will be recalled more clearly than the book itself.

Wise parents pack their houses with books. ScienceDaily.com last year reported on a University of Nevada study that concluded children from homes with 500-book libraries are likely to attain 3 more grade levels more than those from homes without books, the same degree of difference as having parents who are college graduates versus parents who can barely read.

The study was international; the effect of home libaries on Chinese children is a whopping 6.2 grades, and American children rise 2.4 grades, with the world average being 3.2.

“Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

To put it in perspective, people with some college work earn $7,213 more than those with high school degrees, and those with bachelor’s degrees earn $21,185 more.

How can an average family afford to surround their children with hundreds of books? By sharing books with their neighbors through their public library, as borough residents do, lives are improved, and a better, more capable citizenry is created.

“Sharing” is at the top of Robert Fulghum’s list in “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” for a reason. It’s what makes American public libraries great.

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