November 8, 2011

Libraries are dens of socialism


A palace built for carpet-baggers.

Rahm Emanuel has been threading the needle with his passive yet effective strategy of managing of the Windy City’s Occupy Movement. Recently though, the consummate politician has received a louder protest from librarians and library users than from the Occupy movement. That’s because Chicago, like so many cities in the U.S., was planning on brutally cutting library funding. The Mayor of Chicago successfully placated these protesters too, by finding libraries more money via a raise in vehicle licenses. Rahm can be so warm and fuzzy sometimes.

In a entertaining piece of satire titled “Libraries = Socialism”  author Edward McClelland writes that libraries should not receive special treatment. Instead they should be outed as the socialist temples that they really are. McClelland laments:

I can’t think of a more egregious example of government-sponsored socialism than the public library. Unproductive citizens without two nickels to rub together are given access to millions of books they could never afford to buy on their own — all paid for with the tax dollars of productive citizens. Does the government pay for people to rent tuxedos for free, sail boats for free, or play golf for free? No, it does not. So why should it pay for people to read books and surf the Internet for free?

The free market should be left alone to distribute books and computers to those who have earned them. With libraries handing out free books, is it any wonder Borders went out of business? Libraries are also repositories for out-of-print books which can no longer make it in the marketplace. Gary can no longer afford to keep its main library open, but you don’t see the state bailing it out. That’s because Indiana is a business-friendly place that knows how to balance its budget.

But McClelland isn’t done. Libraries also pride themselves on their role in the community as a safe-haven and place where the dispossessed or down-and-out can find helpful services or shelter. This too, gets lampooned:

In addition, libraries are often used by the homeless to warm themselves during the winter, or to nap during aimless afternoons which might better be spent looking for a job. Advocates of public libraries cite them as “community gathering spaces” — but can’t the market provide those spaces, too.

A barrage of this sort is only funny when the subject at hand is so obviously indefensible. Libraries do amazing things for their communities. This of course brings about a rather squalid question. If libraries are clearly this important, why are they always the first service to be cut?

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.