Friday, August 17, 2012

Lovely Paean to Public Libraries

The Librarian, a 1556 painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The Librarian, a 1556 painting
by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The late Mary Lee Dante said several years ago, "Libraries are the canaries of civilization .... and the canaries are dying." She must have had some sort of foreknowledge because all during the years that libraries were growing their internet presence, she was lamenting their general demise. Now it would seem that libraries everywhere are last on the list of priorities for those deciding their fates. And to add insult to injury, Forbes not long ago listed an MLS degree as one of the least valuable of graduate degrees. It's true it doesn't pay well, but the rewards are tremendous for anyone truly wishing to make a difference in people's lives.

Now, comes a very convincingly written article by Emmily Bristol enumerating the reasons for preserving libraries. Library degrees may not be valuable, but libraries promote civilization unlike any other institution. As much as one hates to think so, it may be a losing battle; the tide is rapidly moving information away from the hands of independent curators to corporate entities that do not freely purvey it. And unfortunately, not enough people really care enough to stop this trend. The aforementioned article quotes President John F. Kennedy on the need for libraries: "If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty." Sadly, this plea is falling on deaf ears today, though we need libraries now more than ever.

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