Protecting the Most Benign Institution (Our Public Library)

Lambert here: I grew up in a university town, which built a new open stacks library when I was five or six. First, I went through the entire children’s section (especially the Landmark books, but also Beverly Cleary, books about trains, etc., etc.). Then I went through the young adult section (Jules Verne; Andre Norton). Then I went through the adult section (C.P. Snow, Emile Zola, Stephen Potter, C. Northcote Parkinson; Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons). And of course many others! I accrued many fines…. I can still remember where all these books were shelved (and indeed, shelving books at the library was my very first job; two dollars an hour and a Social Security card). So we should let libraries be the domain of librarians, and not turn them over officious goons! Because it’s never about protecting children, no matter what they say.

By Rebecca Gordon, who taught for many years in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. Now, semi-retired from teaching, she continues to be an activist in her faculty union. Originally published at Tom Dispatch.

When my mother died in 2000, I inherited all her books. Sadly, after several moves and downsizings over the decades, her collection had shrunk. Still, it remains considerable and impressive in its own way. Her legacy to me included some special volumes like a first edition of Frederick W. Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management, a famed codification of time-management practices and an origin point for concepts that helped shape work in the last century — and this one, too.

Oh, and there’s also a first American edition of E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End. On the flyleaf, she inscribed this note: “Stolen by Suzanne Gordon.” As the bookplate on the cover’s interior indicates, it was indeed stolen from (or at least never returned to) The Free Library of Philadelphia. When did this bit of larceny occur? It would certainly have been after she married my dad in 1949, when she acquired his surname Gordon, so probably sometime in the 1950s. The good news is that the Philadelphia library still has several copies of Forster’s book on its shelves today, along with audio books and film DVDs of the work. The bad news is that it’s among the many books on the American Library Association’s list of most frequently banned classics.

Of course, the all-American penchant for banning books didn’t begin in the Trump era. Just ask almost anyone who lived through the Red Scare days of the 1950s (not to speak of the first Red Scare of 1917-1920). But the last few years have seen a remarkable acceleration of attempts to keep certain books off the shelves of public and school libraries. The American Library Association reports an almost four-fold increase in the number of banning attempts between 2003 (458) and 2022 (1,269), most of that increase coming between 2020 and 2022. That this new passion for book banning coincides with the rise of Donald J. Trump, MAGA Republicanism, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s failed “anti-woke” presidential campaign is no accident.

The Most Benign Institution

Name any public institution — the U.S. military, say, or a county welfare office – and it’s bound to have its negative aspects. Maybe you appreciate that the military is one of the most racially integrated bodies in the country. At the same time, perhaps you’re distressed by its recent turn to U.S. universities as a locus for the development of A.I.-powered autonomous lethal weaponry. Perhaps you appreciate that your county welfare office helps people get access to benefits they’re entitled to like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and health insurance. At the same time, you may not admire the mental and emotional burden the welfare system places on people working to secure those benefits or the racial animus and disrespect they may encounter in the process.

I’d like to argue that there is, however, one institution that’s almost entirely benign: the public library. As I wish one could say about our medical system, it does no harm (though many right-wingers disagree with me, as we shall see).

What could be more wonderful than a place that allows people to read books, magazines, and newspapers for free? That encourages children to read? That these days offers free access to that essential source of information, entertainment, and human connection, the Internet? It’s even a place where people who have nowhere to live — or who are regularly kicked out of their homeless shelters during daylight hours — can stay dry and warm. And where they, too, can read whatever they choose and, without spending a cent — no small thing — use a bathroom with dignity.

Free public libraries first appeared in this country in the late 1700s or early 1800s, depending on how you parse that institution’s defining characteristics. It’s generally agreed, however, that the first dedicated, municipally funded public library in the world opened in 1833 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. A century earlier, Benjamin Franklin had founded the Philadelphia Library Company, a private, subscription-based outfit, funded by members who paid annual dues.

While members of such libraries would indeed pay annual dues or even buy shares in them, circulating libraries — some operated by publishing companies, others as stand-alone profit-making businesses — charged the public rent on specific volumes. At a time when books were very expensive, circulating libraries made them available to people who couldn’t afford to own the ones they wanted to read. Such libraries were especially attractive to female readers, the main audience for the expanding universe of fiction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Private-Public Partnerships

I’m lucky to live less than a block from a branch library located in a classical-style two-story stone building. With almost floor-to-ceiling deep-set windows, thick walls, and a hushed interior, the Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Library is an island of peace in the choppy waters of my vibrant neighborhood. In many ways, the Mission is contested territory. Here, the children and grandchildren of Latin American immigrants compete for cultural and commercial space with a new group of migrants — the tech workers who love the Mission District for its edginess, but whose comparatively high earnings are pushing up rents for older residents and, in the process, sanding off some of those edges.

Still, the library serves us all without fail. It has children’s story hours, a bank of Internet-connected computers, and shelves and shelves of books, including a substantial selection of titles in Spanish. Many mornings, I see snaking lines of tiny kids waiting for the library to open so they can listen to stories and exchange last week’s books for a new selection.

Public branch libraries as we know them might never have existed if it weren’t for the munificence of a single obscenely rich private donor. Like more than 2,500 others built worldwide, my branch is a Carnegie library. It was constructed in 1916 with funds provided by the Scottish-American robber baron and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Like every community seeking Carnegie money, San Francisco had to satisfy his specific requirements. It had to demonstrate the need for a public library. It also had to guarantee that it would provide an appropriate building site, salaries for a professional staff, operating funds once it was open, services for free, and (perhaps most importantly) use public money (in addition to any private donations) to support the library. Carnegie believed that communities would only value and maintain their libraries if they were collectively supported by taxpayers. He also thought that libraries belonged in local neighborhoods where potential readers would have easy access to them, so early on he stopped funding the main libraries in cities in favor of neighborhood branches.

Almost 1,700 of these, along with about 100 university libraries, were built in the United States with his money between 1886 and 1929. He also funded them around the world from Canada and Great Britain to Mauritius, Fiji, and New Zealand, among other places. In the Jim Crow South, Carnegie did nothing to oppose racial segregation but did at least apply the same approach and standards to the construction of libraries in Black neighborhoods of segregated cities as in white ones.

In an age when today’s robber barons are investing their money in fantasies of personal survival, whether through cryogenic freezing or riding out climate change in luxurious private bunkers in New Zealand or Hawaii, it’s hard not to have a certain nostalgia for Carnegie’s brand of largesse. I don’t know whether Peter Thiel’s New Zealand “apocalypse insurance” redoubt will still be there a century from now, but my library is already more than 100 years old and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were still offering whatever the equivalent of books might be, assuming no ultimate apocalypse has occurred, 100 years from now.

Threatening the Benign Institution

You might think that an apparently harmless public good like a library would have no enemies. But in the age of Trump and his movement to Make America Grotesque Again, there turn out to be many. Some are “astroturf” outfits like the not-even-a-little-bit-ironically named Moms for Liberty. M4L, as they abbreviate their name, was founded in 2021 in Florida, originally to challenge Covid-era mask mandates in public schools. They’ve since expanded their definition of “liberty” to include pursuing the creation of public school libraries that are free of any mention of the existence of LGBTQ people, gender variations, sex, or racism. In effect, the freedom they are seeking is liberation from the real world.

You won’t be surprised to learn that M4L supported Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s 2022 and 2023 “Don’t Say Gay” laws, which outlaw any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools, while making it extremely easy for parents or other citizens to demand the removal of books they find objectionable from school libraries. Copycat laws have since been passed in multiple states, including Tennessee where a school district banned MAUS, the bestselling Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from its curriculum, thanks to eight now-forbidden words and a drawing of a naked mouse. (In doing so, it also drove the book back onto national bestseller lists.)  

One Florida school district chose to play it especially safe, not limiting itself to removing commonly banned books like Push by Sapphire, the 1970s anti-drug classic Go Ask Alice, and Ann Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. According to CBS News, “Also on the list are ‘Merriam-Webster’s Elementary Dictionary,’ ‘The Bible Book,’ ‘The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places,’ ‘Guinness Book of World Records, 2000,’ ‘Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus for Students,’ and ‘The American Heritage Children’s Dictionary.’” I guess the book banners don’t want to risk kids encountering any words they disapprove of in a dictionary.

Contemporary book-banning efforts extend beyond school libraries, where reasonable people might differ (a little!) about what books should be available to children, to public libraries, where book banners seek to keep even adults from reading whatever we choose. EveryLibrary, an anti-censorship organization, keeps a running total of active “legislation of concern” in state legislatures that relates to controlling libraries and librarians. They maintain a continually updated list of such bills (the number of active ones changed just as I was exploring their online list). As of today, they highlight 93 pieces of legislation moving through legislatures in 24 states as varied as Idaho and Rhode Island.

In 2024, they are focusing on a number of key issues, including “bills that would criminalize libraries, education, and museums (and/or the employees therein) by removing long-standing defense from prosecution exemptions under obscenity laws and/or expose librarians to civil penalties.” In addition to protecting libraries and their employees from criminal prosecution for stocking the “wrong” books, they are focusing on potential legislation that could restrict the freedom of libraries to develop their collections as they wish, as well as bills that would defund or close public libraries altogether. Sadly, as those 93 active bills indicate, in all too many states, libraries are desperately under attack.

Legislation pending in Oklahoma offers an interesting example of the kinds of bills moving through statehouses around the country. The proposed “Opposition to Marxism and Defense of Oklahoma Children Act of 2024,” unlike some bills in other states, is not concerned with excising specific offerings from Oklahoma’s library shelves. Rather, it focuses on a key organization, the American Library Association (ALA), which, since 1876, has existed to promote and support librarians. One of the ALA’s most important activities is the accreditation of library schools, where future librarians study their craft.

Oklahoma’s “Opposition to Marxism Act” would outlaw all cooperation with the ALA, including a previously existing requirement that public librarians have degrees from ALA-accredited library schools. In this context, “opposing Marxism” means opposing the main professional organization for librarians and its Oklahoma affiliate. I imagine this has something to do with the ALA’s support for “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” which any MAGA adherent will assure you is just another code word for Marxism.

Like Mother Like Daughter?

I’ve loved libraries since I was a small child. I used to regularly ride my bike to our local branch and return home with a basketful of books. With my mother’s permission to borrow books from the adult section, I had the run of the place. She brooked no censorship in my reading life (although I do remember her forbidding me to see the movie West Side Story because she thought it would be too sad for me).

I seem to have inherited my mother’s regrettable tendency to hold onto library books past their due dates. Or at least I blame her for that terrifying evening when I was perhaps 10 years old and heard the doorbell ringing. My mother called me downstairs to greet the two people on our doorstep. They were probably college kids but, to me at the time, seemed all too grown-up. They were there on a mission: to reclaim seven overdue library books. Fortunately, I knew where in my messy bedroom each one could be found and was able to round them up in a few minutes.

These days, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my overdue books reclaimed that night wouldn’t even be found on library shelves in some states. (After all, I do remember that my mother introduced me to E.M. Forster when I was still pretty young.)

The tendency to hold onto books past their due date has, alas, continued to this day. Just this morning I received an email reminding me that I needed to return one that was squirreled away in my backpack. So, off I trundled to my neighborhood library, silently thanking Andrew Carnegie and the good people of San Francisco that I still have a library to go to and promising myself not to let any MAGA-minded fools take it away.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

32 comments

  1. Extroverted Introvert

    Wow Lambert, My second job after paperboy was a “Page”shelving books too. For a little over 2 bucks an hour. My small town library was s Carnegie “Pvblic Library” Said so in stone right on the front. I’m with you on Beverly Cleary too Ribsy being a favorite.

    Still a heavy user of the system now. Though I seldom go to browse. Technology means I select my books online, the book is pulled and waiting for me on a shelf. Checkout is via the barcode machine. I’m in and out in a few minutes with zero human contact normally. When I do venture into the shelves I’m astounded at how perfect they are, seemingly untouched.

    Never thought I would use an ereader. But I’ve been using one for the past month. My old eyes really appreciate the adjustable font and backlight. This also means I’m checking out books electronically from the public library without leaving home.

    So yes, viva public libraries, but I worry about the lack of use. In my youth the reference librarian meant any piece of information was a phone call away. Can’t believe they receive a single call all day now, so i wonder what they do.

    Reply
    1. LifelongLib

      My hometown’s original library was a Carnegie one too (with an unused old jail in the basement), although IIRC the library moved to a more modern structure by the mid-60s. The Carnegie building is now a museum.

      Reply
  2. MT_Wild

    All public institutions suffer as social cohesion and trust erode. Libraries are no different and it’s a shame. They can join the post office and public schools as perennial targets.

    That said, libraries as bathrooms and day shelters for the homeless doesn’t seem like a model to drive use and foster public support.

    Maybe they could put on shows for kids or something….

    Reply
    1. Angie Neer

      My beloved is a librarian specializing in children’s services. We’re lucky to live in King County, WA, where the library system is well-funded and still has broad support. There are definitely many homeless and otherwise unfortunate people among the library’s regular users. But that doesn’t prevent my wife from welcoming families and putting on programs for the kiddies. She also does a lot of work outside the library, going to schools and day cares.

      Reply
    2. joanna

      Every time I go to the library, I thank the staff for allowing homeless people to enter, rest, read, and use the bathroom.

      Some years ago, this saved my son’s life.

      I would say that mercy and kindness make for great models.

      Reply
  3. Hastalavictoria

    Library

    We share something in common Lambert.

    I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I received corporal punishment for ‘stealing books’ from the library when I was about 14.

    In the UK each Individual was given 6 Library Tickets.Often I wanted to read 8 books.My passion was so great,therefore, I smuggled/stole the additional 2 but always returned them.

    I got caught and received ‘ 6 of the best’

    I still think it was a fair swop.

    By the way could we have an article about Public Toilets ~ which serve surely the most basic human need.The remorseless attack on these over the 40 years continues in the UK.Few remain, surely another benign item that we seek succour from

    Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    I don’t think that the random censoring of books is the real danger here. There seems to be a “libertarian” strain of thought that there should be no government run institutes at all – which also means libraries. That they they should be given over to the private sector (read private equity here) so that they can be made more “efficient” while they turn a “profit”. I guess that means membership fees and borrowing fees and leasing of library space for other functions – such as brass band practice sessions.

    Reply
    1. antidlc

      About 10 years ago we had to fight off a private takeover of our public library. We almost lost it.

      A group of us rallied together to pressure the city council to vote NO. There were so many people at the city council meetings that there wasn’t room to sit.

      I was there for the final vote and the tension in the room was intense. The librarians were there, wondering what their fate would be.

      It was voted down by one vote (whew!). The librarians hugged everyone that came out to support the local library.

      I fear we will have to go through this again someday.

      Reply
    2. Carolinian

      The world has simply changed and while I once treasured my town’s very good library, because it was the only place to find out things, that is no longer true and librarians are acutely aware of this.

      And the charge of politicization cuts both ways with the “drag queen story hour” folks enlisting libraries to push their own political goals. To me the error of the above is to pretend the world hasn’t changed when even librarians know this isn’t true.

      Our downtown library has now gotten the green light to add a planetarium to the building. Anything to keep the public engaged and maintain the all important door traffic.

      Reply
    3. JonnyJames

      Yes, the hard-right “libertarians” have hijacked the term.

      A left-libertarian would say: “I want to be free from ignorance, and I want freedom of access to information”, a right wing libertarian: I want the freedom to asset strip public infrastructure for myself”

      We can go back to the “Dark Ages” where most were illiterate and only the “elite” could read and write.

      Reply
  5. Carolinian

    Nobody loves libraries more than I do, and I grew up in one. But articles like this give me a pain. If Ms. Gordon would get in touch with the real world she’d know that the real force now banning books from libraries would be the librarians themselves. Many of my favorite books from my own library have disappeared off the shelves as the library abandons any archive function and ejects books that haven’t been checked out after a certain period. When it comes to books they are now seen as expensive to house and maintain chunks of increasingly low quality paper and often disposable after a sufficient number of patrons have checked them out. They get no respect and the stacks continue to thin out on the assumption that the archive is now the internet and the library needs to switch to maker spaces and teen rooms and the free video store downstairs.

    All of which is to say that in an internet age they are vulnerable institutions so the last thing they should be doing is promoting controversial theories (and they are controversial and they are theories) about gender dysphoria. Ironically many trans activists have sought to ban Abigail Shrirer’s book Irreversible Damage about underage sex change for girls because it disputes their theories. So as always the true message is “it’s ok if we do it” and the zeal that the MAGA complainers have for banning the speech they don’t like on the internet merely underlines the inconsistency if not downright hypocrisy.

    Libraries do need to remain neutral sources of information (and my library does have Shrirer’s book which is how I was able to read it) but lets not kid ourselves about filtering taking place and most especially among the publishers themselves. So what we really need to protect is the internet, and let the libraries maintain their public service function–now quite wide ranging–as long as they can.

    Reply
    1. Albe Vado

      Yeah, I find the idea that the right are currently the main drivers of book censorship a bit out of touch.

      As for what books are actually on the shelves, increasingly it’s lowest common denominator translated Japanese manga and dreck YA adventure fiction. (Now I’m absolutely not one to hate on manga, but I suspect it isn’t exactly 20th Century Boys or Otoyomegatari that most people are checking out). Libraries are in practice becoming worse as repositories for actual literature or informative non-fiction, and that has little if anything to do people outside the library applying pressure. It’s mostly because that’s what the librarians are choosing to stock.

      Reply
    2. joanna

      I don’t think it’s the librarians who are making the decision to get rid of unread books, even if it’s Plato. I think it’s administrators and dwindling financial support. They do this with college libraries too.

      Reply
    3. ks

      So what we really need to protect is the internet, and let the libraries maintain their public service function–now quite wide ranging–as long as they can.

      Yes, that’s the question – what is their public service function? I’d say providing a place to read and think and write is as important as providing books and media that stimulate the imagination and widen our understanding of the world, but my city’s central library hasn’t had a walled-off quiet room in the ten years I’ve lived here, something even small branch libraries in the DC area had. I fear that ongoing major renovations are going to turn it into more of a community center than a library, which would be convenient for the city, since they’ve stopped funding some of the existing community centers. Librarians say “they” (admin, I’m guessing) are going to remove a lot of the fine old wooden counters and reduce the number of books on open shelves (so much for browsing and serendipity.) Diminishing respect for the books and the librarians, I think.

      Reply
  6. Offtrail

    Like others, I grew up with great appreciation, love in fact, for our local public library. Like Lambert, I also had access to a local university library, which in those long-gone days had reciprocal lending privileges with the public library. I’ll always be grateful for those experiences.

    I now live in a community with a beautiful new award-winning library, which I no longer patronize.

    A couple of years ago while browsing the history section I noticed a book about Palestine that I had not seen before. Glancing at the pages I quickly became aware that it presented an essentialist view of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as evil. (“Essentialist” of course means that the qualities in question are inseparable from the people). You did not have to infer these characteristics from the book’s contents. It came out and said “Arabs are cruel”. I saw this in less than a minute of leafing through the pages.

    I was horrified. The local library noticeably favors DEI content in its purchases. I could not imagine how this literally hateful book slipped through the cracks.

    I borrowed the book. At home, I composed a letter to the library’s director, including choice quotes, and asking that the book be removed from the collection. I received a response saying that the book would be reviewed by a committee that held that responsibility. Eventually I got another letter saying that the book was deemed appropriate for retention.

    I borrowed the book again and composed another outraged letter with fresh quotes. I quickly got a reply saying that the decision stood.

    I thought about contacting local civil rights groups, the media and city councilors. In the end I let it drop. The controversy was having a bad effect on my own mind. I was also torn because I believe strongly in freedom of speech. The library’s charter stated that all points of view would be represented. At the same time it’s impossible to imagine that a book displaying similar attitudes toward, say, gays or Blacks being permitted on the shelves. I concluded that our community standards permitted an exception for this kind of material about Arabs. I hope that no Palestinian-American kid comes across the book.

    I still feel sad about this. It changed my formerly warm feelings about the library to the point that I no longer go there.

    I would be curious to hear others reaction to this, especially from professional librarians.

    This was the book:

    Reply
    1. Offtrail

      For some reason the Amazon link to the book did not show up. The book is “Philistine-2: The Great Deception” by Ramon Bennett.

      Reply
    2. Carolinian

      Even though I live in a conservative state my library’s selection of new books leans heavily toward DEI but I think that’s more a reflection of what publishers are publishing. There are books from conservatives but fewer of them.

      It’s not really the job of the library review committee to act as a truth squad so you may be giving them motives that they don’t have. The bias is toward inclusion rather than exclusion. The controversy talked about in the above post is more about what is appropriate in the children’s section of libraries. I think the left is banging this drum way too hard. Back in my day we kids weren’t even allowed in the adult section.

      Reply
      1. Arizona Slim

        Same here in Tucson.

        However, I’m also noticing that the DEI-flavored books aren’t being checked out very often. I can go to the library one week, come back the following week, and they’re still there, in the very same position.

        And, Carolinian, I agree with your point about the left banging this drum way too hard.

        Reply
      2. Offtrail

        Thank you for the reply. You make some very good points. It was partly due to opposition to censorship in principle that kept me from raising a bigger stink.

        However, it’s very hard to believe that our library would have a book in the open stacks that said that Black men believe they are unable to control their sexual impulses. Which is one of the things this book said about Arabs.

        Reply
      3. LifelongLib

        “…we kids weren’t even allowed in the adult section.”

        I don’t recall ever being prevented from browsing or checking out any book I wanted from the library, at any age. My parents always allowed me to read anything I liked as well. Not that I went out of my way to find anything especially risqué…

        Reply
    3. jm

      Not a professional librarian in the sense of having the MLIS degree, but I did recently work a year and a half as a Library Technician. (The idea of this being my “retirement” job did not work out unfortunately.) And I could not disagree with you more strongly. The answer to a bad idea is never censorship. The answer is to counter it with good, or at least better ideas. I worked at the main public library in one of California’s smallest counties. In the week following the October 7 attack in Israel we put up a display of books about the ongoing Palestine/Israel situation. The opinions expressed in these books ranged from ardently pro-Zionist to equally ardent pro-Palestinian. Respect the patrons’ intelligence, provide them with access to information, and let them think it through for themselves.

      Further, bad books can be a useful historical document of sorts. Personally, I would rather know about the evil that exists, as expressed by those that support evil, than have that evil proliferating in the dark, so to speak. As an example, Mein Kampf is widely available, even here in the People’s Republic of California, through the cooperative system of libraries that gives tiny rural systems like mine access to much larger collections all over the state. And that is as it should be. Use their own thoughts and words to form a stronger argument against them.

      Reply
      1. Offtrail

        Well, I agree with that. The problem is the double standard. I’d be shocked to find a book as hateful as this one about another ethnic group in any community library.

        Reply
  7. Watt4Bob

    I’d say the attack on Public Libraries is just another facet of the war on education. IOW, not only will you be unable to afford higher education, you won’t be able to educate yourself for free either.

    People forget that if you graduated from high school in California prior to 1970, you could attend any state school for free. Gov. Reagan put an end to that.

    From the Intercept; The Dangerous “Educated Proletariat”

    In 1970, Ronald Reagan was running for reelection as governor of California. He had first won in 1966 with confrontational rhetoric toward the University of California public college system and executed confrontational policies when in office. In May 1970, Reagan had shut down all 28 UC and Cal State campuses in the midst of student protests against the Vietnam War and the U.S. bombing of Cambodia. On October 29, less than a week before the election, his education adviser Roger A. Freeman spoke at a press conference to defend him.

    Freeman’s remarks were reported the next day in the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline “Professor Sees Peril in Education.” According to the Chronicle article, Freeman said, “We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat. … That’s dynamite! We have to be selective on who we allow [to go to college].”

    “If not,” Freeman continued, “we will have a large number of highly trained and unemployed people.” Freeman also said — taking a highly idiosyncratic perspective on the cause of fascism —“that’s what happened in Germany. I saw it happen.”

    My son explained that the University he used to teach at decided to warehouse books rather than add space to the library stacks. They put all the ‘extra‘ books in boxes, sorted by size! They put the books in a warehouse and it takes about two weeks for them to find books requested by library patrons.

    When he once found a book, part of a rare 4 volume set, misplaced in an unrelated box, he informed library staff who explained that they were only associate librarians, and so, could not re-box the book with the other three volumes. However they did explain that they could put a red sticker on the book so that the next ‘real‘ librarian to see the book might think to re-unite it with its siblings.

    Libraries are just needless expense to the sort of folks who run things now.

    And on top of that educated voters are just a problem.

    Reply
    1. ChrisPacific

      And on top of that educated voters are just a problem.

      This is worth remembering when we we hear all the self-righteousness from the party establishments about Trump’s lies and manipulation (I include Democrats here, since it’s clear both parties took this as a guiding principle).

      All he’s doing is working the system they created, but doing it better than they are.

      Reply
  8. Starry Gordon

    A danger to libraries may lie in the fact that (apparently) very few people read any more. The latest statistic I’ve seen on that was that less than 1 out of 100 people have read a book since they got out of high school. I was also told by a professional resumé writer that it had been scientifically determined that readers whose job it is to read resumés, that is, management or their HR servants, typically stop reading after the first 25 or 30 words; therefore, the first words on such a document need to provide a hook, as a pop song does, within that space.

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  9. Feral Finster

    Did not Frank Zappa teach the masses thusly?

    “Go college if you want to get laid.
    Go to to the library if you want to get an education.”

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  10. playon

    An institution that is also benign (or once was) would be the American postal service, which I believe is the most popular government-run entity in the USA. Unfortunately it is well known that the USPS is under attack, they just keep chipping away at it — and Louis DeJoy is still postmaster even after he defied Biden. Recently I had to send a 12 lb package across the country and was surprised to find that it was cheaper to use FedEx than USPS, the first time this had been the case. Mission accomplished…

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  11. John9

    I just returned from my local public library after obtaining free Covid test which thankfully have turned out negative. I love that library and the system it supports. I go weekly for books and videos.
    It started with a Carnegie type endowment that constructed a fairly state of art Beaux Arts iron structure building for 1913. The town probably had a population of 2000 in 1913. The building could have been in Paris about the same time.https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/vamainstreet/han.HTM

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  12. Lefty Godot

    Public libraries and public school libraries seem like two different sources of difficulty. I would imagine the criteria for shelving books for one versus the other would be quite different. Is that naive? A public library should be shelving books that “someone might want to read” whereas a public school library should be shelving those that “we think it would be good for students in this age group to read”. Because the latter is a more actively encouraging stance, I would think parents might have more leeway to veto certain selections. Obviously that could get out of hand, where vetos based on political opinions could result in tit for tat countermeasures. For a general public library, the ability of one person or group to veto what all others can read should be way more restricted. The solution we had long ago, in the dark days of my youth, was for material that some people did not deem age-appropriate to be able to be checked out with parental approval only (from a locked cabinet). Apparently that option is no longer thought viable.

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