Friday, April 23, 2010

Closing public libraries: the silencing of democracy


         Chris Tranchetti, my student, a naval officer, who is working on a thesis on Socrates and Jesus,  has been seeking to identify the quote from a Vietnamese Buddhist in King’s “A Time to Break Silence” (here and here).  Through Vincent Harding, I had known this was from Thich Nat Hanh.  He found it in a book at Aurora Public Library.  What he describes affectingly, however, is what public education cuts mean to poor blacks, chicanoes and whites (including those who go to Auraria Community College which uses the library).  In the New York Times for last December 27th, an editorial reported that 4 in 100 poor black teenagers who search for jobs now find them (an unemployment rate of 96%).  If one is unemployed, perhaps one could go to a pubic library to get a book.*  This is an aspect of American democratic greatness compared to other countries.  I have taught in Granada and at the Univeristy of Palma de Mallorca in Spain and have a clear idea of what it is when even Universities do not have libraries, cannot provide reserve lists of books.  An artefact of Franco’s fascism, there are no public libraries in Spain.

        The absence of public libraries is also a deep anti-democratic aspect – ordinary people must know be allowed to learn anything – in less developed countries.  That is one reason why communism, even in France and elsewhere, was a progressive force in the educational and political involvement of ordinary people.  If one wants to understand the core truth of Marxian social theory to this day,** just like the fact that cooks employed by Sodexo at universities don’t get lunch breaks or sick days, see here, this is a glaring example.  On this central issue in the class war, America has always been comparatively decent and democratic.  But the ground is shifting.

           Obama is our first black President, the anti-“dumb Iraq war” candidate who is waging 5 aggressions.  He is also in charge in a situation where the oppression of black people has become more extreme, at least depression-level.  Obama, to his credit, is trying to strengthen the community college system.  So far, however, there are few results. Chris’s anecdote says it all.


This morning I alluded to a story from the Aurora Public Library, where I borrowed the book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Because of budget cuts, the library’s hours consequently have been cut to Mon- Thurs 9am-9pm, closed Fridays, and drastically reduced weekend hours, as well as a few “city furlough days” throughout the year.  The first thing I noticed upon walking into the building last night (about 7:30pm) was that today, Thursday, April 23rd, was one such ‘city furlough day.’ The second thing I noticed was that I was the only adult white male in the place.  The library’s patrons seemed to consist of mostly blacks and Hispanics of college-age with a few working class college-age whites. 

Maybe this shouldn’t seem so strange, since it was a weeknight evening, so families would be home finishing dinner (explaining why no moms and kids were there).  But, what about the empty-nesters?  Well, I did see a few older black men and women, but the only two older white women there were the librarians, and as I mentioned previously, I was the only old white guy.  However, this, admittedly, very unscientific observation got me to thinking:  Why were the library services subject to such cuts, and who was affected by them? 

I remember reading in the Denver Post at the end of last year some commentary which stated that the library services should be cut because with the ubiquity of the internet and Amazon, its services have become obsolete and `nobody' uses them.  Really?  Obsolete to whom?  It seemed pretty full to me.  But, then again, maybe those patrons didn’t count because they were minorities and of a middle to lower socio-economic class.  Those 'nobodies' were probably using the library’s services because they could not afford home internet service and/or did not have the financial wherewithal to purchase books from Amazon on whim in the comfort of their den. 

Following this thought further, I recalled that the Aurora Central Library is also the 'college' library for Aurora Community College.  I think this means that the library receives some additional funding from the community college system and, subsequently, uses those funds to purchase classical, esoteric, and scholarly works for use by the students.  So shouldn’t we be encouraging funding of our public libraries that serve as community college resources?  By doing so, don’t we improve the education level and job prospects of these “nobodies” that affluent white males complain about as reducing property values and increasing the crime rates in our communities?  If the previous aspersions are so true, why do we continue to reduce the availability of the financial resources which could be used to alleviate those problems (the return of tax surpluses via TABOR comes to mind)?  Aren’t those of us who vote for cuts in library services in response to budget deficits responsible for perpetuating the problem we profess to despise?

Well, my friend, this was what was going through my head in the twenty minutes or so I was at the library last night.  Well, that and the fact that the Cherry Creek HS library appears to be as big as the Aurora Central Library.  Maybe next time, I’ll just shop Amazon at home in my pink fuzzy bunny slippers content 'living in my white bread world…'

But, always remembering to donate any unwanted written works to Aurora Central.



*See Jonathan Kozol on The Shame of the Nation: the Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America for what poor students are faced with. But young people, often, still fight to learn.  

**Such insights may differ from solutions, but of course one needs to acknowledge true claims to mount an effective response, the opposite of current political and social “science” whose lame diktat is "Marxism failed; don’t bother looking into it."

1 comment:

Alan Gilbert said...

Rusty sent me this excellent comment he had trouble posting:

"i use libraries daily, and one of the things that i see a lot of patrons, especially minorities, doing is USING THE INTERNET to look for work.. ...close the libraries and you close off that avenue to employment. yet another aspect to the class war."

Post a Comment