Magazine article American Libraries

Ending the Isolation of Poor People

Magazine article American Libraries

Ending the Isolation of Poor People

Article excerpt

Kathleen de la Pe[tilde{n}]a McCook

The income disparity between rich people and poor people in the United States is astonishing. The average income of families in the top 20% of income distribution is 10 times as large as that, in the bottom 20%, according to Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends (Economic Policy Institute, 2000). This spring, members of the Coalition of Immokalee farm workers staged a "March for Dignity," walking the 230 miles from Fort Myers, Florida, to Orlando to draw attention to the fact that their wages have remained unchanged for 20 years. I joined in the march as the farm workers walked through Sarasota, the nation's 16th-wealthiest metro area; retirees in their Mercedeses and Lexuses were annoyed that traffic was held up as the farm workers, following a plaster Statue of Liberty in a field truck, waved posters requesting a fair wage. The rate in 2000 for picking two tons of tomatoes in the sweltering Florida sun is $50.

This issue of American Libraries considers some of the ways in which librarians work to ameliorate the circumstances that affect poor people in the United States. Patrick Grace, who chairs the Seattle Public Library's work group on serving homeless people, describes the scope of homelessness in the nation and responses of committed librarians. Judith Boyce, a librarian working in rural Louisiana, and Bert Boyce, a professor of librarianship, present ways in which libraries have tried to overcome the isolation of the rural poor. Larry Sullivan, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, provides a brief history of the role of reading in prisons and discusses the lack of access to books and information experienced by the nearly 2 million poor people incarcerated in U.S. prisons today.

At the heart of this issue is an essay by Earl Shorris that contends that an essential function of librarianship--providing access to the ideals of the humanities--offers the means to make poor people dangerous. Shorris says that poverty results from poor people's lack of in volvement in political life; studying the humanities, he asserts, gives rise to the kind of reflective thinking that leads people to get involved. Shorris's book New American Blues: A Journey through Poverty to Democracy (1997) has been the inspiration for the establishment of the Clemente Course in the Humanities all over the United States, including the University of South Florida. There, the course is offered through the College of Arts and Sciences' Community Initiative, coordinated by Robin Jones with the encouragement and commitment of Dean S. …

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