Bread, circuses and libraries

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Good afternoon all,

If memory serves, there was a time when a county executive wondered about hanging on to libraries.

Tom Gordon was reportedly looking at ways to possibly slim down the county’s functions – perhaps through having municipalities and/or the state foot more of the bill for government services like parks and libraries.

Residents made their feelings known and Gordon, a shrewd politician, became a strong advocate for county libraries and parks during his three terms.

Over the years, the county hasadded and upgraded libraries, sometimes at an eye-popping cost. Yesterday officials announced a long overdue new location in Middletown with a $24 million price tag.

The county dragged its feet over the years when it came to an MOT library. Gordon, a former County Police Chief, was not especially happy with the wave of growth that resulted in his force being replaced by town police. Perhaps he hoped that longtime Mayor Ken Branner would cough up the money from the town’s burgeoning tax base for a library.

Interestingly enough, the town benefitted from Gordon’s complex Unified Development Code that was demanded by county residents but had the effect of drawing development to areas south of the canal.

Middletown has paid a price in terms of sprawl (a Maryland official once pointed to the town as a textbook case of what not to do). The town and state have responded with effortsto deal with the issue. One unfinished piece of business is fully turning around Middletown’s downtown.

In his successful bid to defeat Gordon, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer picked up on demands for additional county services in the Middletown area and put a library on the front burner once he got into office.

A few cranky folks will complain about the need for libraries in an era with e-books and Starbucks with online access.

Critics haven’t been to a library lately. Parking lots are busy and checking out books remains popular. E-books are also available. The library also checks off another box in a town where the well-heeled school system is drawing young families.

In Roman times, it was said that bread and circuses were needed to keep the populace happy. In New Castle County, libraries and parks perform the same function. – Doug Rainey, publisher.

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