Here in the sprawling forest of North Dartmouth, the streets are wide and ranch houses long.
It’s exurban America, a la la land of wide screen home theaters and sidewalkless roads.
Two decades into the 21st century, the New England farmland long ago reverted to new growth woods. In July, the asphalt is hot, the pine smell sweet and the chickadees and crickets chorus constant.
As I write, the kids are on endless video battlegrounds and moms text their sisters about what they bought on Amazon. If dad didn’t play golf or work out in his shop this morning, maybe he’s on the couch snoozing with the British Open on cable in the background.
Maybe someone somewhere on Cross Road is reading early Saturday afternoon.
Bill Clinton’s mystery novel "The President is Missing" is No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list and Danielle Steele, whoever she really is, has another blockbuster out about a rich family in crisis. Poor Anthony Bourdain’s suicide has resulted in his back-of-the-shop classic "Kitchen Confidential" heading back up the Times’ list.
And here on Cross Road, just north of the Route 6 strip that is the real center of Dartmouth, they broke ground for a new library on Tuesday. Everybody who’s anybody associated with the town or the state library fund was there to grab a ceremonial shovel and hard hat. Taking a bow for the astonishing news the town had agreed to build both a new police station and a new library in the same year. It is a good thing.
Even in a world in which we don’t read as much as we used to, it doesn’t take many brains to know that the sprawling town of Dartmouth — more like a mini-county than a town really — needed a better library in the north part of the community.
The state’s plan to connect Tucker Road with the intersection of Route 6 and Hathaway Road gave them the excuse they needed to demolish the old library — a tiny branch of only 3,600 square-feet that wasn’t adequate to a community of 35,000 people where it’s 16 miles from the northernmost part of town to the southernmost. The new branch, located just down the street from Potter School and the District 2 Fire Station, will make the first half-mile of Cross Road off the state highway a bit of a mini-municipal center for the northern part of town.
And the new library, as we’ve read, will have 14,000 square feet, a large assortment of computer and other technologies, a 100-seat auditorium and room for 49,000 books if anybody ever reads them. In other words, it won’t be just about reading but will serve a whole variety of educational and cultural needs for the northern part of the town, just as Southworth Library has long done the same for the southern part.
Even in an era of little reading, there are always the people who are big readers, of course. I learned that 10 years or so ago when I went to visit the old North Dartmouth library at a time when they had temporarily closed it for budget cuts. The librarians there told me about the people who always reserve the new bestsellers as they come in, folks who are always reading library books. And about the people who use the computer and copier services and the older folks and idlers of one sort or another who while away their time at the library.
That’s a good thing for the community. It’s something that brings a people together.
There’s a lot of anti-government rhetoric around these days. A whole lot of talk that people don’t really need government — people can buy their own books and computers, and why doesn’t the town just contract out its roadwork. Some folks long for the day when we’ll privatize those elitist public schools draining away all our money.
But the truth is that in middle-class communities like Dartmouth, the public school system and the public libraries are popular. The anti-government talk is really about some folks, and not all folks, just not wanting to pay for all those poor folks’ schools and libraries in the cities.
But Dartmouth, with a big boost from the state (which believes in such things as public libraries and community centers) will build a great new library for the folks who live on and off the long roads and side streets that wind through rural North Dartmouth.
That’s a good thing in my mind. My libertarian friends have yet to convince me we’d all be better off on our own.
Jack Spillane is the Sunday and editorial page editor of The Standard-Times.