Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Library is America's last truly socialized institution and you're about to lose it

(Written by an American expat living in the European Union)

Did you know that the library is America’s last truly socialized institution and that everyday you come a bit closer to losing it! As a male who is a business librarian, (that is to say someone who holds graduate degrees in library science and an MBA degree in marketing), I understand very well that fee for service in America’s library systems are creating a class of information have-nots. For some of you this means that your children aren’t going to be able to read as well. It also means that as voters in a democracy, you will no longer be as well informed without full library services. As the series, the American dream vs the European dream which I was able to generously publish with the support of the Daily Kos community, we have seen that we cannot depend on the plutocrat owned radio and television media. Sometimes we have to go to print sources, even international print sources of the variety and scope that you can’t possibly afford as an individual to subscribe to them all. Additionally libraries make online databases available to their patrons that allow you with the touch of a button to read international media sources from around the globe. You’re in the process of losing this all and a lot more.

Now let’s ask why should you be interested in defending America’s last truly socialized institution? Well, let’s get down to it shall we? So you don’t think the library is a completely socialized institution. Well, let’s talk about the theory of a library for just one minute, which is everyone who walks in the door and holds a library card has access completely to the same services. It doesn’t matter if they’re the mayor or a homeless person. Everyone in the library is supposed to be treated the same. It is the one place in America where equality doesn’t just get lip service. The American Library Association has produced a wonderful statement called the Freedom to Read Statement wherein it is believed that your freedom to read comes directly from the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. You’re about to lose that and that’s pretty darn important.

You can think of the library as a repository of everyone who has ever thought and everyone who has ever written! That’s a lot to lose access to.

Now we know that by in large, we are not really in tight budget times at all but rather we know that a lot states have ran up artificial deficits just like in Wisconsin wherein they give tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations and then try to balance the budget on the backs of working class Americans and their unions. So it is that library systems all over America are running out of money and this is in danger of tearing the guts out of the last truly socialized institution in America, where everyone is supposed to be equal and it is in danger of creating a division in the population of the information haves and have-nots.  

L.A. Weekly – L.A.’s Library Measure L

There’s lots of hidden City Hall fat to fuel the 73 shuttered libraries

By Patrick Range McDonald and Mars Melnicoff Thursday, Feb 24 2011

Last summer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council achieved a grim milestone. With little discussion, the mayor and 10 of the 15 council members approved unprecedented, punishing library cuts that made L.A. the only significant U.S. municipality, aside from the dying city of Detroit, to shutter its entire public library system two days a week. At the Cypress Park Branch Library in northeast L.A., children once streamed in on Mondays to work on computers many families can’t afford at home, while other students read and avoided the violent Avenues gang after school. Now, with Sundays and Mondays dark and his staff cut far back, librarian Patrick Xavier says, “It’s a struggle.”


Literacy among adults and children in the information age is the lynch pin to education, retraining and full employment. No institution in America does more to support literacy than your friendly neighborhood library. I’m not just talking about story hour and reading programs for children but serious efforts in supporting young adults and working adults literacy and continued education efforts. Let’s understand that there is a strong correlation between literacy rates and crime. That is say that most people in America and there are over 2 million of them who are in jails and prisons traditionally suffer from low literacy rates. Why is it that America can find plenty of money for prisons but has problems in finding money for libraries? All of this is to say nothing of the staggering lost of human potential of the American prison population. In fact we have about as many people in prison as we do have in the military. Oh yes and did you know that most American military manuals are written at the 9th grade reading level? Did you also know that there are millions of Americans today who cannot read this diary because they are functionally illiterate? Now we start to understand what it is that America is losing, when it is losing the last truly socialized institution in America.

Fee for service

There is a trend in American librarianship that refers to fee for service. That is to say that services are made available only to those library patrons that can pay for them. This trend has been growing in recent years and now it’s threatening to become an American national epidemic. Some people will always argue that there always will be some basic library services available without fees, but the issue is what is the cost to American society of a less well read public? What is the cost to American society of not fully supporting our children’s literacy and then there’s the issue of quality of life and the joy of reading which can also be diminished by fee for service advocacy.

Yet another alarming development is the privatization of libraries in the creation of the information have-nots. Here’s a link to the American Libraries Association information page on that issue. Link:…

Information retrieval

Some people believe wrongly that they can find everything they need on the internet and therefore don’t want to support libraries anymore. The simple fact is this is not true because there is too much irrelevant information on the internet that people retrieve. In library jargon, we say its high volume retrieval with low pertinence. In fact what we want is low volume with high pertinence. That is to say, you want a small manageable amount of information that is relevant to your information needs and that’s why you need professional library collection development working for you, both behind the scenes and at the reference desk. The more information that becomes available in the bibliographic universe, the more we need the professional information management of librarians to help us navigate the information maze. We don’t want to create a system where only the affluent on a fee for service basis can afford to have the librarian as an information professional assisting their information retrieval needs through database searches, reader guidance, children and adult literacy issues. The library must continue to be the social leveling institution that it has always been where everyone has equal access to have their informati
on needs met. Libraries collections must continue to mirror through their collection development policies the full populations of the communities (to include non-English speakers) that they serve rather than have library collections and services developed around the needs of a few affluent library patrons population driven by their ability to pay in a fee for service structure.

This diary encourages you to support your local library by writing a letter to the editor today and telling them why it is that you support libraries, that you support literacy and that you support intellectual freedom for both authors and readers. Also please consider joining your friends of the libraries group. We need everyone’s help to defend the last fully socialized institution in America which is your local library.

Thank you for your support of American libraries.

(Finally it should be noted that the famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who in

the minds of many was a noted socialist set up libraries all over America.)


PS: I’d like to take this opportunity to invite anyone interested in joining the Progressive Friends of the Library group, newly formed at the Daily kos. Please send me email at or visit our page below. Thank you.…

(Cross posted by author from the Daily Kos.)


  1. sricki

    I am about to be on the phone for an hour or so and then I have some reading to do, but when I come back later tonight I’ll post a more substantive comment.

  2. Jjc2008

    honestly I have been close to tears over what is happening in education, to students, to teachers, to communities.

    My last six years, I ran our school media center having gotten my MA in tech ed.  I did not get my Library Degree as I was close to retirement and I was grandfathered.

    But the school I was in had had a fire.  The library burned down.  My second year there, I set up the new library.  All new books from insurance money, all new everything from shelves to computers, and there I was one day in the summer (not being paid of course but I wanted to open the new library in time for the start of school).  One friend, a long time librarian came down one day and talked me thru the set up.  The custodian built the shelves, and I arranged them.  And for the next month all I did was open boxes, barcode and shelve books.  One could say I learned my library one book at a time.  In the long run it was a good thing, albeit the first day I was overwhelmed.  But I pretty much knew where every book was and for the next several years I tool pride in having one of the best elementary libraries in our district.

    Now, our right wing district has close that school.


    Libraries mean so much to a democracy.  But then most of us here know and believe that. Public libraries, public school, public roads, public workers of any kind are not the targets of the greedy privatizers.

  3. There are so many aspects it is hard to know where to start, so in no order:

    Volume of content:

    Of course the spread of literature by one definition or another has followed an interesting curve in recent centuries, with a characteristic accelerating slope in recent decades.

    From points 100, 200 and 300 years ago you can draw the incrementally-growing slope from zero to some, the boom of volume printing last century marking the transition to near-vertical which continues that trend perhaps indefinitely.

    Information Management

    Yahoo then Google became household names as that line steepened because the problem wasn’t having information – it was finding it. This speaks to the Librarian issue that is one key of this whole topic. Some traditional Librarian skills used with physical volumes will not transfer to a world with high-volume and in some cases fluid electronic content, some skills will seem to be critical.

    Community Access

    Regardless of physical or online, libraries have traditionally as you note stood for public access to information. It is hard to imagine an institutional answer to the fundamental need in our society to have all information available to all people. If you wanted to replace libraries for only the purpose of ensuring that those on the edges of society still had access to the information everyone else had at home, you would have to create a bureaucracy about the size of the library system.

    Historical Touch

    Perhaps I am only showing my age, but I love paper books and old documents beyond words. I am not sure at what point technology creates something with the attributes of paper that make it different than words on a screen. Maybe soon, maybe not for a long time. But a library system and local libraries are an access portal for everyone into and ocean of both information and physical history.

    I would like to hear you expand on the details buried in your impassioned article. Can you provide some examples of fee-for service currently in use or consideration? How widespread the practice is becoming? …

    This reads very much as a ‘rally the base’ piece, which it is probably pretty good for. The issue, however, is one that I think could get fairly broad support among moderate and even some conservative voters. It’s local, it’s traditional, it’s family and it’s kids. The liberal blogosphere is more advanced in many ways than the conservative blogosphere, and among those volunteering their time for this cause I would suggest some could craft some very effective messages to the middle and near-right. FWIW, I would avoid terms like “socialized” and add info on how libraries help veterans.

    we are not really in tight budget times at all

    And skip that argument. I’d love to hear it sometime, but it won’t add voters to the right of engels. :~)

  4. sricki

    I remember how I loved them when I was a little girl. My mom took me to ours all the time. We had a “big” one downtown and a smaller one somewhere else (I no longer remember where it was, and it’s no longer there). We would spend hours sitting around together in the library reading… and selecting books to take home.

    As I got older, libraries became more and more about research. Free access to books and databases and and and….

    Can’t use google for research of course. As you said, “high volume retrieval with low pertinence.” Currently, I am lucky enough to have access to a number of databases thanks to my school. But I will soon lose that, and unless I want to pay out the ass, I’ll be relying on libraries again for personal research purposes.

    There is something special about libraries to me… And the one at home occasionally has a “book clearing” — things that are seldom or never checked out — and sells a ton of books of all sorts for REALLY cheap. I’ve been to a couple, and they’re great. Come home with boxes full.

    Aside from the sentimental stuff, libraries are, as you said, vital sources of information for the public. They promote literacy and the free dissemination of information — two principles which I would like to think most Americans believe in.  

  5. …and a belated welcome to the Moose from me.

    Yes, there’s is something inherently ‘socialistic’ (or is it ‘freedom loving?’) about the free exchange of ideas, and universal access to culture implied in free education, and the corollary – free access to books.

    I recently moved and only two weeks ago joined my local library in Holborn, only to discover that – thanks to the Tory Lib Coalition’s massive cuts in public spending – it was likely to close. Luckily, I also have access to the stunning British Library not so far away in St Pancras.

    But that’s just ring fencing my existing privilege as a college graduate. The real work the local libraries do is with kids reading groups, literacy courses for adults, access to the internet and research materials.

    Cutting libraries is such a short term policy. All it makes me think is that, as ever, many of those in power WANT TO KEEP US STUPID – so we don’t challenge them. But it’s an incredibly self defeating policy in terms of economic effectiveness or social cohesion.

    As some educationalist said over a hundred years ago: “Deny our children access to immaterial goods of culture and learning, and they will start demanding material goods by force”

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