Friday, August 24, 2012

Librarians and Politics

[ Originally written and posted on MySpace on Nov 15, 2006 ]
Recently, I came across a rather interesting website for librarians entitled which obviously takes its name from the traditional warning cry of the librarian. The site's homepage is headed with this quotation from the great benefactor of public libraries Andrew Carnegie: "I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves. They reach the aspiring, and open to these the chief treasures of the world, those stored in books. A taste for reading drives out the lower tastes."
This quotation from Carnegie was most probably chosen because it is in accord with the basic philosophy of proclaims itself to be a website for conservative librarians. Some conservative librarians do exist. even has links to the websites of a few of them, along with links to liberal librarians and ideologically nondescript librarians. While these three parties of librarians are fairly well balanced in their numbers on the homepage, they are rather less balanced overall. maintains that librarianship is greatly unbalanced to the left. Indeed, there is much evidence to support this assessment. Consider, for example, the following item taken from the Washington Post for July 24, 2004: "According to PoliticalMoneyLine, five times as many corporate CEOs, presidents and chairmen gave to Bush as Kerry: 17,770 to 3,393. Conversely, the number of professors who gave to Kerry is 11 times the number of those who gave to Bush, 3,508 to 322. Actors split 212 for Kerry, 12 for Bush; authors, 110 to 3; librarians, 223 to 1; journalists, 93 to 1; and social workers, 415 to 32."
What factors can account for this imbalance? One is self-evident. Public libraries and most academic libraries depend upon public tax monies. Conservatives, at least those of the most common Republican variety, generally favor low taxes. That factor alone would account for the disproportionate support among librarians for the party of public largesse as well as for librarians' antagonism towards the party of parsimony. Since librarians are a force in the formation of public opinion, perhaps the party of the right has been penny wise but pound foolish.
Conservatives might be more successful with librarians and other people if they thought more clearly about what it is that should be conserved. For most of them, such consideration seems to stop with a vow to conserve, at all costs, either "the free enterprise system" or the U.S. Constitution. Did all that is to be conserved begin only in 1789 or in 1776? Perhaps it is something primordial that must be conserved. From whence came the achievements of 1789 or 1776? Did these great blessings simply descend upon a people waiting to receive them?
Even the brilliant traditionalist Russell Kirk did not quite see this, or perhaps cautiously feigned an inability to see it. Kirk's greatest book, America's British Culture (1993) is one long lamentation about that culture's decline, but nowhere in that work does he dare to look at the possibility that that decline is due to the great decline in the percentage of the population of the USA which is of British descent. The hard fact that a culture does not create a people, but rather the reverse, never comes to expression.

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