We're lucky to have the support for the public library that we have in Madison, but elsewhere libraries aren't so fortunate. Libraries are caught in a crossfire between financial pressures and the forces of technological change.
In the UK, the Conservative government is threatening to make massive cuts in the funding for public libraries. Philip Pullman, best-selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, spoke movingly at a Jan. 20 meeting in the Oxford Town Hall about the role of libraries and the need to preserve them.
I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight . . . Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.Pullman traces the history of libraries back to Alexandria, the Egyptian library that was the greatest in antiquity until its destruction. Poignantly, the library in modern-day Alexandria is one of the cultural treasures that people of the city formed a human chain to protect during the pro-democracy uprising. We may be called on to protect ours from a less physical -- but nonetheless real -- harm in the form of political, financial and technological pressure.