The IRS is under fire this week, and rightly so. But every time people complain about paying taxes and dealing with the IRS, particularly during tax season, I am reminded of what a blessing it is to live in a country that can collect revenue from its citizens. It does so in a generally effective manner and then puts that money to use for the public good. Of course, I’m speaking in broad generalities, but look at the other option. In college and graduate school I studied the governments of Africa. One primary reason governments are weak is because they are unable to effectively collect taxes. They cannot raise revenue. Then, because the average person pays no taxes they feel no ownership or responsibility to participate in or support the functions of government. People don’t demand accountability because they have no vested interest. Those countries have open sewage and horrible roads. You can’t dial 911 in an emergency and an ambulance will never come because there are none. I pay my taxes and therefore I am keenly interested in what my government does with my money. I am also keenly interested in using the services my government offers to me for “free.”
Take, for example, the public library concept. One of my favorite places to visit at home or abroad is a local library. I have lived in and visited many countries where there are no libraries. What a privilege to live in a country where public libraries exist. Taxpayer or not, entrance is free. When traveling with children, I always recommend you do a little research and find a library where you are going. They often provide a welcome respite from a hectic day of site-seeing. Free bathrooms. Climate-controlled. Comfortable chairs. A drinking fountain to refill water bottles. And, of course, books. If books are available in English, take a break and read the children something by a local author. The librarian should be able to help you find an appropriate book. And libraries often have bulletin boards advertising local concerts and events which you might not hear about otherwise.
Two years ago when I traveled to the East Coast of the United States with my two babies (20 months and 2-months-old at the time) to spend time with my husband while he was away from home for several months, we discovered the small local library. The children’s area had puzzles, puppets, games, a play house, coloring books with crayons and, of course, loads of books. On hot summer mornings we spent hours there. My older daughter met new playmates everyday, most of them local residents.
When traveling abroad we also make an effort to see the local library. Some are famous in their own right for historic reason, like the library in Alexandria, Egypt (pictured below). Others contain great works of art. Some libraries are known for their culinary offerings. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the central library in Amsterdam. The modern edifice sits on the edge of the water, many stories high, and contains a large cafeteria on the top floor that offers an amazing vista of the city. Most libraries are small, modest establishments, but are still worth a visit to the passer-by. I was only in the town of Orange, California for a few hours, but we walked to the library. Panels outside the building explained the fascinating history of the town and the citrus industry, highlighting facts about the immediate area and offering more insight into the great migrations of people that came west in the last century. And the Denver public library had the largest children’s section I’ve ever seen. There were some toys and other distractions, but mostly it was packed with thousands of children’s books – and a great view of Civic Center Park at the foot of the gold-domed capitol building. I may not always agree with how my government spends our hard-earned money, but I can certainly appreciate living in a country where the government still sees fit to provide free access to literature for all ages and a comfortable chair. In many countries, a public library is the government’s least concern.
While I only have pictures of the exterior of the Alexandria library, the interior is even more incredibly massive. For visitor information, check out the website.
Have you been to a library at home or abroad that is a must-see? Please, do share. I will add it to my list!