I have a terrible habit - an addiction that has plagued me from my youth. At times, it lures me away from home, family, and other responsibilities and carries me off to strange places where I mingle with characters savory and unsavory for hours at a time, forgetful of time and duty.

Those of you who read know the feeling.One night this week, overcome by the urge, I whisked away to the fertile valleys between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, back to a time 3,000 years before Christ.

And I found a link. There in the fertile Mesopotamian Valley, the Sumerians planted and reaped in abundance and found themselves with time on their hands - time to develop a system of writing, to codify laws, and build magnificent cities. When I reach for a book, I have the Sumerians (and countless others between then and now) to thank.

I felt a warmth for Urukalgith, who (interestingly enough, after a period of oppressive government) undertook another recodification of law and defined for the first time, the concept of "freedom."

I could see in my mind's eye the six-mile wall around Uruk, "gleaming like copper," as described in the epic tales of Gilgamesh.

I grieved that the Sumerians could never quite get their great city-states to co-exist peacefully and share the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates equitably. I learned something about human nature in their decline from great civilizations to agrarian mud villages in valleys spent from over-use and decay.

It was a great visit. I didn't even know I was home again until I woke up in the morning with the book still on my bed.

So, what's the point?

The Utah State Office of Education announced this week that libraries and media centers in our public schools are in a catastrophic state. Collections are woefully behind times and adequately trained personnel is available in less than a tenth of the elementary schools.

New technology that significantly expands the capacity of the library to amass data and pass it along to students is not being incorporated.

Earlier this year, we learned that Utah's institutions of higher education have serious deficits in their libraries.

Suppose that five millennia from now, architects sifted through the ruins of a state that was known as Utah. Might they write:

"In the late 20th Century, Utah was in a state of decline. Its libraries had failed to stay current with the technology that thrived in that era - technology that literally brought the world into the classrooms of more progessive societies. Library shelves were depleted of current books, which were being published at an unprecedented rate.

"The state's students, deprived of access to the collective knowledge of the ages, gradually became less able to compete with more educated students in other states. Business and industry bypassed Utah because the level of education did not provide a workforce comparable to what they could find in other areas of the country.

"Over time, Utah reverted to a second-class society and declined into mediocrity."

Farfetched? Probably, but an issue that certainly deserves our attention. Our libraries reflect the standard of our culture. To let them decay to the point that their effect on young and old alike is diminished would be sad indeed.