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Doris Lessing: “A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants.”
Toni Morrison: “Access to knowledge is [the] supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission.”
“No committee decides who may enter, no crisis of body or spirit must accompany the entrant. No tuition is charged, no oath sworn, no visa demanded.”
“Of the monuments humans build for themselves, very few say touch me, use me, my hush is not indifference, my space is not a barrier. If I inspire awe, it is because I am in awe of you and the possibilities that dwell in you.”
Britain has closed almost 800 libraries since 2010…
It hard to describe this as anything other than permanent cultural vandalism. An insidious form of class war and a purposeful narrowing of public imagination, opportunity and actualisation.
Of course I included a typo in a thread featuring two nobel prize winning writers 😭
Lessing and Morrison describe free public library systems, which did not suddenly appear in the world fully formed or without struggle. Such democratic libraries were often more aspirational, idealised and conceptual than a historic or contemporary reality.
While even a flawed public library provides infinite portals of discovery, it would also be a mistake to suggest that they are inherently utopian, righteous or apolitical.
Or that they've not historically embraced or acquiesced with government censorship or discriminatory access and collection development policies based on biases or interests re: class, race, sex, &c.
Historically the priorities of library committees have aligned with the politics, power relations and paternalism of its members and trustees, and the democratisation of libraries and the library collection was, and is, never a given.
I'm thinking of the barrier to membership based on whether you were a ratepayer or not, a library in Limerick refusing to stock suffragette literature in 1913, the removal of materials that did not align with Catholic teaching & the segregation of libraries in the Jim Crow South.
“In 2017, a normally routine document released by the archives [revealed] that archivists had agreed that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement could delete or destroy documents detailing the sexual abuse & death of undocumented immigrants.”…
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