Libraries

On yet another pandemic Sunday, I want to talk about anything but Trump and the transition. So…

At some point in history class, most of us learned about the fire that destroyed the library in Alexandria–a structure supposedly filled with all of the knowledge that humans had acquired by that point.

A few days ago, I came across an intriguing article about that story. Evidently, the great fire was mostly a legend–but the events that did lead to that monumental loss should stand as an even more significant warning about the dangers of anti-intellectualism.

The article began by quoting from Carl Sagan’s retelling of the conflagration that (legend tells us) destroyed the knowledge that had been acquired in the ancient world, all of which was thought to be within the library’s marble walls. Sagan warned that destruction of the library should be seen as a caution to those of us who are living some 1,600 years later.

Sagan stood in a line of writers who, for the last two or three hundred years, have made the word Alexandria conjure up not a place—a city in Egypt—but an image of a burning library. The term Alexandria has become shorthand for the triumph of ignorance over the very essence of civilization.

The article set out what historians do and don’t know about the actual library and its destruction. Although there are competing theories, it is most likely that the library met its end gradually–not in one big blaze, but over years and decades of neglect and growing ignorance. Although it is probable that there were fires during those years, accounting for the loss of many books, the “institution of the library” was destroyed more gradually– through organizational neglect and the growing obsolescence of the papyrus scrolls themselves.

And therein lies the real moral of the story.

Alexandria is, in that telling, a cautionary tale of the danger of creeping decline, through the underfunding, low prioritization and general disregard for the institutions that preserve and share knowledge: libraries and archives. Today, we must remember that war is not the only way an Alexandria can be destroyed.

The long history of attacks on knowledge includes not just deliberate violence—during the Holocaust or China’s Cultural Revolution, for example—but also the wilful deprioritization of support for these institutions, which we are witnessing in Western societies today. The impact that these various acts of destruction of libraries and archives has had on communities and on society as a whole is profound. Communities in places like Iraq and Mali have seen Islamic extremists target libraries for attack, and in the U.K. over the past decade, more than 800 public libraries have closed through lack of support from local Government.

The movement of human archives to internet servers (or the Web or the Cloud or other digital storage venues) has been just one of the numerous dislocations we humans are experiencing in our bumpy transition to a digital age. As various legislative bodies wrestle with the issues presented by that transition and by the emergence and dominance of huge digital enterprises, the protection of knowledge–and the ability to distinguish knowledge from disinformation, fantasy and conspiracy theory–has to be a primary goal.

Libraries and librarians are immensely more important guardians of that goal than Google.

Neglect of libraries is part and parcel what Isaac Asimov called the “cult of ignorance,” a phenomenon that we see in contemporary dismissals of expertise as “elitism”and the cyclical eruptions of anti-intellectualism in the United States. Asimov’s famous quote probably says it best:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

If the story of Alexandria stands for anything, it’s the importance of libraries–national and local. Those libraries are our gatekeepers, safeguarding our ability to access practical information as well as hard-won wisdom that has been built up over centuries. If we fail to adequately fund, maintain and protect them, we will suffer a setback not unlike the years following the legendary loss of the Library at Alexandria.

 

 

34 thoughts on “Libraries

  1. Libraries are cool and all, but we have big-screen TVs today. I can sit on my comfy couch and learn all kinds of things.

    I think the problem for many is that school is considered something they must do, so it’s like taking awful tasting medicine to feel better. I’ll hold my nose and drink it down, but I won’t be doing that anytime soon. It’s dreaded, or it’s just to acquire the minimum skills to get a job. It’s a means to an end.

    The concept of learning has been broken down into an industrial model for making cars along an assembly line, and once the car is finished, we all celebrate. But, that’s a horrible metaphor for life and lifelong learning.

    And while the older generation despises Smartphones, they are mini-libraries. I can step into any library around the world in a manner of seconds. Someone in India can ask a librarian in Germany about the Holocaust.

    This country does not invest in our youth, and it shows on every major measuring stick besides economic output. As long as we PRODUCE and CONSUME stuff, that’s all that matters. The problems are it is making us sick physically, mentally, and spiritually. Collectively, we are dis-eased. It’s showing up in world rankings such as wellness and happiness. We have used propaganda for so long to conjure up a different story than reality. We are just now coming upon a reality check. It’s not going to be a pretty picture come self-assessment day.

  2. IMHO, one of the continuous problems of ‘newness’ is that people, ALL people, believe that if something is new it must be better. And this applies to everything, especially technological things.
    An example – from the history of the automobile – especially the DeSoto automobile. In 1956 Virgil Exner, the famous designer who put fins on cars, developed one of the most beautiful cars ever made, Chrysler Corp. 1957 and ’58 DeSoto brand. It was stunning and yes, it sold like hotcakes. And they could not keep up with demand, so they let dependability and practicality slide by the wayside to just sell cars.
    The worst problems were with water. The cars leaked water like sieves, and that resulted in rust – rust that was inside as well as outside the car. It was said the cars showed rust had developed before it could even be delivered to the dealers to sell!
    Then, in 1958 the worst recession of the ’50s hit and car sales slumped – DeSoto was among the worst hit by the recession as well as the stories going around by the rust. In 1961, the DeSoto brand was discontinued due to low sales numbers.
    The point? As I mentioned, ‘newness’ does not guarantee ‘better’.
    Conclusion: It’s just my guess, but I would bet that sometime in the future, maybe even the near future, there will be a great loss of information stored in clouds, and it will disappear. And our history since WWII will go with it.

  3. Excellent article today, it’s like a breath of fresh air! I remember writing about city of Egyptian Alexandria,

    To the contrary of being more mythical than real, it is well-known that scholars from around the known world at the time came to Alexandra’s library for copies of its books and scrolls and to have intellectual discussions amongst those elite scientific and philosophical minds. Libraries around the world or known world, wanted copies for their own libraries!

    The Romans eventually helped its decline before the burning by giving their own library in Rome more prominence as Rome was the seat of power during that time. Alexandria was in decline for some time because Rome’s movement against it intellectually, and Alexandria’s knowledge was siphoned off by Rome anyway. That 7th century sacking by invaders led to the famous book burning of Alexandria’s library! And yes, some scholars claim that it sent human civilization backwards about 1000 years!

    Was it really coincidence that it was the onset of the dark ages around the time of Alexandria’s fire? I think a direct correlation could be drawn to that particular incident and the decline of civilization itself for at least 1000 years! And, you can correlate that even further because the Renaissance which generally is agreed to have taken place between the 14th and 17th centuries. So from the fall of Rome in 470 something until the beginning of the Renaissance the 14th century, and the decimation of Alexandria’s library, was truly a dark time.

    What is the 1st thing that authoritarians do if they acquire power? Well, not so long ago, the current POTUS said that they were going to teach patriotic history! And, I would like to know what in the heck patriotic history is?!?!

    Obviously more like revisionist history! Trump doesn’t like the idea of teaching about slavery, the murder of the 1st Nations on this continent, and America’s violent inequitable history that has been glossed over in many of the history books. Because we all know that white the nationalist just wants the truth, and they just want to be honest brokers of history, LOL! But who can forget the massive bonfires in Nazi Germany? Bonfires of books, and bonfires of people. The same was done by Mussolini, which was kind of shocking, considering the Vatican is part and parcel to Rome.

    The Vatican does have or does contain some of those original writings and Alexandria, but they will never see the light of day, the church will not allow it. We already know that there were batteries way back millennia ago, now, what would that civilization be doing with batteries?

    The printing press was really the thing that jumpstarted the Renaissance, just like social media has promoted a certain level of lazy ignorance and stupidity among current civilizations. During the Renaissance people were hungry for knowledge, today people are hungry for willful ignorance and wish to be willfully deluded by conspiracies and moronic innuendos!

    I guess if you would consider history cyclical, then we are probably headed for another dark age, that there might be one last hope, one last grasp at being gatekeepers for knowledge and truth. It’s a heavy burden, but men have carried heavy burdens, women may be even more so! Because even through the enlightened years of so-called modern history, men’s ruling class, the white Protestant nationalistic males have ruled with an iron fist. Only considering others exactly like themselves as being worthy of power and a vote.

    By all accounts Alexandria was a beautiful city that contained the home of Mark Antony, temples, Cleopatra’s palace, a beautiful harbor which is protected by a long promenade like pier, unfortunately, earthquakes and other natural disasters weakened the city before the destruction of the library.

    There is a huge connection between urban infrastructure building and intellectual acuity. Infrastructure makes life easier, and, the less a person and businesses are struggling, the more time there is for intellectual pursuits. If you look at history, throughout history, huge and tremendously far-reaching infrastructure programs lifted the Renaissance, and lack of these things will bring the dark ages right back.

    It starts with revisionist history, or as they’re calling it patriotic history now, and will continue with book burnings, and conspiracy theories, and social media with no guardrails. When a conspiracy laden organizations such as Q anon can start movements in Europe, it shows the power of social media and how it can actually reverse the trend of intellectual growth!

    Too bad, humans will do this every time! The stand in line with their mouth open as the manure spreader of ignorance drives by and they proceed to swallow and then regurgitate that manure themselves for those who did not have the privilege of standing in line with their mouth open.

    Close to 50% of this country’s population loves the taste of manure, the rest of the population understands that the best place for manure is for it to be buried.

    So, either our current society is going to dig a hole and bury this manure by any way possible, or, we can use those holes for our own grave pits! It’s up to us!

  4. The libraries are still here, the audience prefers ‘Cliff Notes’ instant gratification rather than a few hours of study. Couple of cases in hand: conversation with 50 yr old son, hs STEM teacher; “Dad, people don’t read anymore.” While the previous 2 respondents opinions are as good or better than my opinion, one says that TV and/or a smart phone is a solid alternative and I say they are Cliff Notes.
    The other points out the rusting Chrysler products correctly but failed to include that SALT was being used extensively on roadways which exponentially increased the rusting. Early imported Hondas had severe rusting problems, why? Using untreated steel which US mfg used to prevent the horrific rust problems as stated above as many of the Japanese main roads did not require salt due to the more moderate climate. He was correct a within the Cliff Note version without the total library explanation.
    The libraries exist, we prefer the Cliff Notes and instant gratification.

  5. I saw an interesting poster in a March for Science a few years ago;

    Don’t confuse your Google search with my PhD.

    I understand that this phrase and variants are now available on coffee mugs and T shirts.

    Nic out

  6. One of my concerns is that we become to dependent on the internet and do not maintain hard copies of our “knowledge”.
    What would happen if the internet crashed and all the digital info was lost – we would be in deep sh*t.
    I have and will always support physical libraries. I still buy hard copy books because I love the feel of a book in my hands and the turning of pages.
    Some day when I am gone my personal library will be donated to my local library.

    I hope others feel as I do in support of physical libraries.

  7. “Libraries and librarians are immensely more important guardians of that goal than Google.”

    A few days ago, in response to another posted comment, I posted a reference to a most prophetic book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. This book is perhaps even more relevant to today’s discussion. I highly recommend it!

  8. The excuse that libraries are not needed because of the presence of the Internet are just that – excuses. In the room in which I am typing this, there are several six-foot tall bookshelves that are full. They contain the kinds of information I can find at a glance that google cannot provide. For example, if I want to know what Hamilton thought about the electoral college, I can find it in the Federalist papers more quickly than by means of a google search. I have books by John Maynard Keynes and ones about his ideas about economics. Google can give me the definition of a word quickly, but the Oxford English Dictionary shows me how the word has been used over the centuries (So I have both photo-reduced editions of that classic). General ideas about how people thought over the centuries are found in the 12 vol History of Western Philosophy (by Will and Ariel Durant). The point is that most of the time I am not interested in facts, but in ideas, and the internet is not as good at that as are books that I can pull off the shelf (or find in a library). If I am a dinosaur, so be it. I’ll mention that to my friend T-Rex the next time I see him.

  9. I remember the first time I walked into “the stacks” at the library of Indiana Central which is now the Univ. of Indianapolis. It was a humbling experience for me because I realized the vast amount of knowledge collected by humans and how little I really knew.

    Libraries are not only an archive of human scientific knowledge but also of the arts, religion, history, philosphy– the humanities.

    But even more libraries can often be a site where communities gather to connect, to learn from one another. I believe that social media and cyberspace will never replace people meeting together to share knowledge, to problem solve, and yes, to share a feast. Libraries support the greater good, not individualistic self absorption. They diminish social isolation.

    I wonder how many libraries the wildfires in the west have destroyed.

    Just as there is a place ( I think in the arctic) that stores all the seeds of plants etc., we perhaps need a secure place where our knowledge is stored.

    Here’s a line from my song “Baby put that Computer Away.”

    I can’t recall the last time we talked face to face.
    Sweetheart you can’t kiss me when you’re lost out in cyberspace”

    It’s a very different song than “Marian the Librarian” in 76 trombones.

    I wonder how many kisses have been stolen in a library.

  10. Pascal touches on the thoughts I have about this subject. There has been in my lifetime a slow but steady replacement of learning for the sake of learning for simply learning a narrow set of facts so that you are employable. And driving this trend is that horror of modern society… unfettered capitalism. If you cannot make money off of an endeavour, than it is of no use. Knowing the History of Western Philosophy is not a money maker, so why learn it. Instead go to some for profit “training center” and get a certificate that entitles you to get a job at just over minimum wage working to put big profits into the hands of the few. And for the children of those few there remains over-priced institutes of learning where diplomas guarantee the already privileged a permanent place at the heard of the line. Actually knowing anything not required.

  11. A civilization must have a high degree to stability for the intellectual pursuits to flourish. The ancient Western Roman Empire lost this stability in the fourth and fifth centuries.

    We do not really know how literate the general population was throughout history. At least from what I have read up until modern times the idea of universal education is fairly recent.

    There is another issue at play here – Not only a universal education – You need the spare time to actually read. Our history up until modern times did not have “spare time”. Farmers labored year around. The young people were needed on the farm to help the family. Farmers back than were even more dependent on the weather.

    The industrial revolution once it started to take hold and the migration from farms to cities took hold brought education into the neighborhoods, even so you did not need a college degree to labor in the factories.

    Disposable income and spare time are vital in today’s society to enjoy intellectual pursuits or the arts. If you have to spend most of your time working and income paying for life’s necessities going to the theater, opera or maybe even the library is an un-affordable luxury.

    Maybe some of the strain of the anti-intellectual movement is a manifestation of the Class Struggle, i.e., a rejection of the values of the elite.

  12. Dan Lazarton: ” one says that TV and/or a smart phone is a solid alternative and I say they are Cliff Notes.”
    I will have to argue with you there. There are many really good TV shows as well as internet sites that can provide a lay person with a lot of knowledge about a subject they are unfamiliar with. I would never be able to slog through a physics book and even if I did manage to I probably would not understand even 1% of what I had read. But Carl Sagan, Neil De Grasse Tyson and others have opened up physics to me in a way which may not be comprehensive in scope but in a general way which I can understand.
    I have learned so much about animals that I did not know by watching National Geographic.
    There are only so many hours in a day and even though I am retired I could never read enough books to gain the knowledge I currently have through TV and the internet.
    I still read voraciously……history, philosophy, fiction, etc. I will often watch a show or internet item multiple times because otherwise I will not retain what I have watched. I will often pick up something I missed the 1st or 2nd time I watched it.
    To simply naysay something is bad because it is made easier or simpler doesn’t make sense.
    To rely solely on TV or the internet IS bad. It is like reading only one newspaper…….you get a limited version of what is happening in our world.
    But , it can be used to broaden our horizons and give us those broader perspectives we all need.

  13. Wonderful topic, thanks Sheila..Of course you could say that i am a tad biased on this subject because i spent a huge part of my adulthood either patronizing and/or working in our wonderful library system here in Indianapolis. First, as a young adult i became a working single mother and my move toward the library system in the beginning was the result of my low income/single parent status; there was little my small family and i could do without money so voila! the library became our second home. We never stopped. Neighborhood libraries are still the backbone of many communities regardless of the focus on all things world wide web. Yes, many of us still love the relationship between ourselves and the physical aspect of an actual book, but we have to accept a vast majority of the population now seeks the online experience. For now, our libraries have been able to cater to many needs by offering online books, streaming movies, etc. They also offer personal access to internet. Regarding record keeping i don’t remember exactly how long ago the battle cry was “there will soon be no reason for ‘hard copies’ because of the unlimited storage space of computers. Hmmmmm..Seems like ‘hard copies’ are still with us. Anyway i too have a concern about the loss of information and with ‘cloud’ maybe that’s one step closer to that loss. I am not tech savvy anymore because it all moves so fast but hopefully we can hold onto the best of both worlds. Again, thanks for this discussion.

  14. It’s interesting that one of the signs of anti-intellectualism are attacks on the technologies that now have taken over how intellectual property in the largest sense is distributed.

    It’s a sign of generation obsolescence that is the result of failure to pick up the torch of lifelong learning.

    One informative perspective is to consider the cultural systems that we’ve put in place to share both wealth and knowledge. They share both inequitably.

    In a functional society we would have plans being executed to adapt to the reality of human knowledge growing exponentially and the importance of distributing it more fairly.

    We would add to the front end preparation of the young by adding periodically years of public school. We would extend public education to retraining of the middle years of life to help those who’s careers go obsolete in the middle of their working life. We would also accept the reality that people doing intellectual work in many cases are capable of continuous learning and sharing of knowledge in some useful ways until death do us part.

    “Alexandria” would be seen as iconic of both the need and the methodology of making human’s most important accomplishment, knowledge, the center of life both in the expansion and distribution of it.

    We are in the middle of witnessing the damages cause by not being capable stewards of our intellectual property, our wealth, and our culture. We have come to value entertainment way too much and intellectual attainment way too little.

  15. From an article in the Atlantic by James Hamblin, M.D., is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

    Like any competent quack, Trump focuses on a winning vibe, not a factual case. He positions himself as an alternative to “the scientists” and “the doctors” such that followers have to choose between trusting them or him.

    This process, in extreme forms, leads to what some psychologists refer to as identity fusion. William Swann, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, coined the term in 2009 while studying theories of individual identity. Once fused with a group or leader, he noticed, followers seem tied to them in such a way that things are true because the leader said them.

    Dystopian as that may seem, it can be a coping mechanism: Orienting your sense of truth around a person can be more comforting than doing so around a nebulous, uncertain, or otherwise threatening reality.

    Fusion is not appealing because it makes sense; it is appealing because it alleviates the cognitive and emotional burden of thinking.

    Hope can be conferred with promises to take care of people, and to be there for them. Reassurance can be offered by guaranteeing that no one will go into debt because they had to go to the hospital, and that people will have paid sick leave and job security so they can stay at home when necessary.
    ======================

    It becomes easier to believe the quack or the charlatan when you do not want to think on your on own. Easy to walk downhill with the Trumpet and Pastor Pence, than an arduous journey uphill with Science.

  16. ML, home run.

    As our lives become more and more devoted to entertainment at the expense of lifelong learning a price to be paid for our intellectual laziness is that we become easier and easier to lead and less and less deserving of freedom.

  17. As a retired librarian, I agree completely with your blog. Now the hard part: Where does the money come from? In Indiana, public libraries are funded by property taxes, as are other government services such as public schools, which also need more funding. It is easy for most of us to agree about the value of the role and benefits of the public library in the abstract. But translating that consensus into political action and increased taxes is the barrier that libraries, schools, and other worthwhile government services have not been able to overcome.

  18. I suppose many folks would consider brick and mortar to be old-fashioned nowadays! Where you can walk in and pick up a book and even take it home and increase your knowledge about a specific subject.

    One thing about those brick and mortar libraries, they take care of the books, the humidity levels in the building, also making sure the paper doesn’t become infested with vermin, or, mold and mildew!

    Great care is needed to protect knowledge, and it must be used constantly. But when knowledge is corrupted like contamination of literal paper pages, the knowledge contained in the book is useless! No one’s going to handle it and some people will depend on others to give them the gist of what they might be looking for.

    That’s social media today! It’s contaminated with vermin and mold and mildew in a physical literal sense and a metaphorical sense.

    There needs to be a disinfecting oversight on social media. One that has the common goal in mind, the common goal of man, man’s common good!

    If information is corrupted, if knowledge is deemed useless because of that corruption, then what good is it? There needs to be a concerted effort worldwide to protect knowledge, ferret out the corruption, and cleanse the information stream from conspiracies and false proclamations!

    What is the old saying? Garbage in cap Garbage out?!?!?

    Well, and the past 25years or so probably more like 30 to 35 years, there’s been a lot of garbage in and as we can see there’s plenty of garbage flowing out! That needs to be changed, freedom of speech does not guarantee that sort of behavior! There definitely should be no protection in promoting, starting, and spreading disinformation and conspiracies!

  19. Wonderful article. I am not a historian, but I have an impression that many of the works in the library at Alexandria were about hermeticism, and if that is true, the church would have been very happy to suppress them.

  20. Knowledge/wisdom is transmitted in a variety of ways thru culture. Music, art, oral tradition and of course books are some of those ways. I think one of the biggest challenges is we have a culture that measures it’s human value through consumption. Suggested readings:
    Entertaining Ourselves to Death
    Passions of the Western Mind
    Fahrenheit 451
    Parallel of the Sower.

  21. Libraries are … essential to the functioning of a democratic society … libraries are the great symbols of the freedom of the mind.

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt

  22. Professor, your post today reminded me of the 1996 Indiana governor’s race. Steve Goldsmith was the mayor of Indianapolis and decided a great campaign strategy was to attack the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library by accusing it of allowing children access to pornography. Goldsmith, Eric Miller of Advance America and Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute all whipped their followers into a frenzy, when all the issue boiled down to was, who is responsible for what children watch, their parents or the library? Luckily this wasn’t a winning campaign and Steve Goldsmith, who Ann DeLaney called “ambition in a suit”, lost the election and remained mayor.

  23. Adidas,

    One really can’t impart wisdom on anyone else, because Wisdom is derived from life’s experiences and the knowledge garnered through those experiences.

    We can have experiences, good and bad, disastrous and beneficial, the human condition has experienced everything in its past. And yet, The human condition, including it’s imperfections, cannot glean enough wisdom to prevent history from repeating itself over and over again!

    Because the human condition is imperfection, it will always be in conflict with itself.

    Until humanity realizes that there is something greater than the sum of its parts, it will never change its perception of wisdom which it lacks. The human condition will never learn how to combine experience with knowledge for that transgenerational wisdom.

    If you smash your hand with a ball peen hammer, that experience and knowledge would prevent you from wanting to smash your hand again with that ball peen hammer.

    But your son or grandson, your daughter or granddaughter, would not have felt that pain, so they might not take the precautions even though they know you walked around with a cast on it for 3 months.

    That’s the imperfection of the human condition, one generation usually never learns from The next, so, they repeat the same wisdomless mistakes on a constant and regular basis.

    This just continues the cycle of misery until there is nothing left!

  24. Another great post, Sheila. Our libraries need our constant support.

    Somewhere I have a vague memory of Mark Twain having Huck Finn’s father saying something along the lines of
    I ain’t had no book learnin’ my boy don’t need no book learnin’
    I don’t remember where, or if I have that one right, but the sentiment is, sadly, pure American.

    Nic – Love the slogan – thanks – I will have to remember it in case I need it someday.

    I also agree with Pascal, and Theresa’s pointing out that we seem to only value learning the leads to money. I remember a Freakonomics podcast about learning a second language. While acknowledging that it seemed to have positive effects on slowing mental decline and had undoubted ancillary effects beyond simply knowing another language, they concluded that it was a waste of time because it didn’t lead to a salary increase – unless you were a non-English speaker learning English. Then it was OK.

    In contrast, I remember my late cousin Bill being exceedingly proud of his undergraduate degree in physics. He was a rabbi and really didn’t use physics in his job. I am equally proud of my “worthless” undergraduate degree in philosophy.

    While Ellen is correct that there is much quality education television, I have noticed that much, if not most, of the programming on The Learning Channel and Discovery, is devoted to pseudo-science and reality shows. You mostly have to move beyond those to find the good programming.

    Personally, I can testify to the importance of libraries for their multitude of purposes. In graduate school, the Highland Park, NJ public library provided me with many books of pure escape fiction to counter the pressure of my research. Years, later, the Oak Park, IL public library fulfilled a “economically significant” role. They possessed a copy of an out-of-print text on an old programming language that I used to learn that language and gain well over a decade of well-paid employment, eventually bringing me to Indy. The libraries here have provided entertainment and sources of information for self-improvement or just plain satisfying my curiosity on some specific topic. This is only part of how important libraries have been in my life since I got my first library card at some young age sixty plus years ago.

    We need our libraries.

  25. Pascal de cap….I found Federalist 68 on my iPhone sitting at my kitchen table in less time that it would have taken to walk to my study to get the book.

  26. Robin: Svalbard in Norway. My friend Cary Fowler, a Memphian, established the Global Seed Vault and the Crop Diversity Trust. CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on Cary and the vault a few years ago. Thank goodness for him and others who put ideas into action. Global warming is ever present, and the folks involved are keenly aware and constantly taking steps to protect the vault.

  27. Anti-intellectualism in America is fostered by religion that can only thrive among people who suspend their critical thinking.

  28. Wayne Moss. Can you get two or three references on your phone simultaneously, the way I can open two or three books on a topic on the desk on which my computer sits, and take notes without having to close one of them to search for and open another? And can you annotate what appears on your screen so that the next time you open it you can see your notes? I know I am a dinosaur (I keep a cell phone in my pocket so I can call AAA if my car breaks down on the road, but for little else), but I have a system that works for me.

  29. My first thought about libraries is that in America we have grown accustomed to building them to memorialize our presidents. If a president is functionally illiterate, what type of library should we build to remember him. Are there libraries of lies?

    Second, libraries reinforce my most basic idea about capitalism: Salaries are structured in such a way that they are inversely proportional to the societal contribution of the worker. Librarians, nurses and teachers are paid the least, while anyone working in any aspect of finance – a mostly useless pursuit – is rewarded handsomely. As the pandemic has taught us, a professional athlete, an actor or a rock star can stay home for six months and it disrupts nothing. If your garbage man or a factory of meat packers stayed home for a month, you would quickly begin to appreciate the value of their contributions to your life style. We’ve acknowledged that reality not by raising the salaries of society’s biggest contributors, but by designating them as “essential workers” and demanding that they risk their lives by going to work.

  30. The Library of Congress (LoC) led me straight to my birth family. My birth mother and her sisters wrote a book about the family. They had the presence of mind to submit a copy of the book to the LoC. When I began my search for family, there they were and there was the book. Yes, libraries are vital to our journey through this life.

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