I had an interesting and sad encounter in my library today. I'm a librarian in a suburban Maryland county library, a generally liberal area but with our share of anti-Obama crazies; the Obama 08 bumper sticker on my car was twice peeled off and stolen while the car was parked in the library lot. I bought replacements on eBay! This afternoon I assisted an elderly couple I had never seen in the library before. They did not seem familiar with using a library and certainly not with using the computers. Not to be snobbish, but they were not the usual demographic for our area which, while economically diverse, is international and highly educated. They were white, had country accents, and were very shabbily dressed. The man's glasses were held together with tape and the woman's teeth revealed a lifetime of dental neglect. I smiled a welcome and asked how I could help them. Imagine my shock when the woman showed me a piece of paper with a web address and told me she wanted to go there to vote against the health care bill!
Now as a librarian I am committed to the neutral delivery of information and assistance with information sources. So taking a deep breath I maintained my professional demeanor and showed them how to get a library card and log onto one of our public computers. Then I continued helping other patrons on a very busy afternoon. Some while later the couple returned to the desk very upset - while trying to submit their vote against health care they kept getting an error message saying they must provide an email address. I explained that many sites require that and suggested they register for a free email account. I showed them gmail and left them to it - we are too busy to walk patrons through internet transactions step by step. Some time later they passed the desk and told me they didn't want email, it was too hard, and they didn't like computers and why should they have to go on a computer to vote against health care. The paper they showed me also had a phone number so I suggested they try that instead. They left the library discouraged and dissatisfied and I don't think I'll ever see them again.
I was left with the frustration of knowing that this couple are just the kind of people that a proper national health care system would help. They looked old enough for Medicare so I presume they are already getting some government run medical care. What could have made them so determined to come to an unfamiliar place and try to use a computer for probably the first time ever just to cast a vote in some poll against health care reform? What could be their sources of information? Sadly it is all to easy to imagine that they are listening to all the fear mongering about death panels and socialism spewing from the liars on the right. This was a classic example of people voting against their own self-interest because they have no access to accurate information and become prey for their own exploiters. The encounter left me with a very bad feeling for the rest of the day. How can the forces of reason reach these people?