Philip Pullman on Libraries

I came across this defense of public libraries by Philip Pullman on boing boing today. I think it’s worth sharing here. His defense is in references to cuts in libraries in England, but we’re going through the same in the States. Seems they always find money to blow stuff up in other countries but have empty pockets when it comes to libraries and education.

Some excerpts:

But one of the few things that make life bearable for the young mother in the second community at the moment is a weekly story session in the local library, the one just down the road. She can go there with the toddler and the baby and sit in the warmth, in a place that’s clean and safe and friendly, a place that makes her and the children welcome. But has she, have any of the mothers or the older people who use the library got all that hinterland of wealth and social confidence and political connections and administrative experience and spare time and energy to enable them to be volunteers on the same basis as the people in the first community? And how many people can volunteer to do this, when they’re already doing so much else?

Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days.

In the world I know about, the world of books and publishing and bookselling, it used to be the case that a publisher would read a book and like it and publish it. They’d back their judgement on the quality of the book and their feeling about whether the author had more books in him or in her, and sometimes the book would sell lots of copies and sometimes it wouldn’t, but that didn’t much matter because they knew it took three or four books before an author really found his or her voice and got the attention of the public. And there were several successful publishers who knew that some of their authors would never sell a lot of copies, but they kept publishing them because they liked their work. It was a human occupation run by human beings. It was about books, and people were in publishing or bookselling because they believed that books were the expression of the human spirit, vessels of delight or of consolation or enlightenment.

This one gets me the most:

The greedy ghost is everywhere. That office block isn’t making enough money: tear it down and put up a block of flats. The flats aren’t making enough money: rip them apart and put up a hotel. The hotel isn’t making enough money: smash it to the ground and put up a multiplex cinema. The cinema isn’t making enough money: demolish it and put up a shopping mall.

The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.

The entire article is worth your time. The pessimist in me says that no matter what we do, libraries are doomed to the forces of money and greed. The optimist in me says that people can make a difference, if we make our voices heard loud enough. Sometime smart really does win.

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3 thoughts on “Philip Pullman on Libraries

  1. a great article.
    i will refer it to someone i know from the women’s choir. she works as a librarian. she too, will surely appreciate the original article (being also an english teacher, she has a great command of english)

    i rant quite a lot about normal life vs: greedyness for profit, so that was not quite new for me, the thing that got me most was this: ‘ a safe place to a parent with a couple of kids’.
    the world is getting short on these places and this is going to have terrible consequences.

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