Jorge Luis Borges is attributed with saying, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” If that is so, imagine the kind of hell that library activists might bring about. Have you ever seen librarians angry? You don’t want to.
Like reporters, librarians are really good at one thing. Research. You don’t want to make enemies of people who can find out everything about you.
It makes me shudder. Only because when I was younger I worked at a library and so I know how truly mean a real honest to God book lover can be. Imagine, if you will, a heavy, leather bound volume studded with spikes and attached with a chain to a long iron handle and wielded with the ferocity of an orc from one of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies.
Libraries used to have lots of volumes like that around. They were called reference books. You don’t see so many of them these days because many libraries, like our local Barnes & Noble Bookstore, for example, are transforming into other things, things that look more like toy stores than bookstores.
You can mark that down to the bean counters taking over libraries, like they take over everything else.
I suspect that a lot of the passion that librarians and library supporters in general bring to the controversy about whether the city should outsource the library to a private contractor, has to do with the fact that people take their libraries very, very personally.
So, when a proposed contractor says that he plans to economize by concentrating on Best Sellers and getting rid of the books that don’t get checked out as much, that sends real book lovers—especially librarians— into paroxysms of horror.
You see, libraries and their stewards owe much of who they are and what they are to the First Amendment. And the point of the First Amendment is not only that you allow popular opinions full rein, but that you also offer special protection for minority opinions. If you toss out the moldy oldies to save a buck, you have already sold a percentage of your library’s soul to the devil.
And that, dear reader, is the first step on the road towards creating library hell. Good intentions. Think of them as paving stones for fire walkers. And bean counters.