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National Library Week

We are celebrating National Library Week with reflections from R. David Lankes. He is the author of The Atlas of New Librarianship. His forthcoming book, The New Librarianship Field Guideis a treatisie on how librarians can be essential positive change agents in their communities, dedicated to learning and making a difference.

It is National Library Week. I’m sure you knew that and have already purchased your greeting cards and exchanged library-related gifts in celebration (“oh look dear, microfiche!”). In recognition of National Library week the MIT Press has asked me to write a blog post. Seeing as the last thing they asked me to write was a book, perhaps I should take this as a demotion. In any case, this led to the normal internal dialogue around what to write about.

Should I talk about how public libraries are changing from quiet bastions of reading to important places of learning? Frankly, Melvil Dewey pretty much summed it up over a century ago when he said: 

“The time was when a library was very much like a museum, and a librarian was a mouser in musty books... The time is when a library is a school, and the librarian is the highest sense a teacher.”

Should this be a reminder that libraries are nothing without librarians and library staff dedicated to improving our schools, companies, academies, and communities? Who needs to be reminded of this? After all people don’t think that hospitals heal without doctors, or court houses dispense justice without judges, right?

With so many topics so well covered I’ve decided it is time to tackle the hidden dark secret of librarianship that the American Library Association has been trying so hard to hide: librarians are after our children.

For decades, hidden behind the stereotypical veneer of spectacles and cardigans librarians have sought to corrupt America’s youth and it is about time you knew it. This is not a new development. In the 1800’s public libraries sought to distribute materials that appealed to:

“Schoolchildren; factory and shop girls; men who tended bar, drove carriages, and worked on farms and boats; and finally, fallen women, and, in general, the denizens of the midnight world, night-owls, prowlers, and those who live upon sin and its wages.

What were librarians distributing? Porn? Communist propaganda? Worse—literary novels! It is a testament to the devious effect librarians have had on our youth that today we expect “good” parents to push novels on our children, and encourage everyone to read. I almost laugh maniacally when people seek to limit libraries to places of books not realizing that is simply reinforcing them as places of corrupting thought.

This technique of selling a place of knowledge and objectivity while delivering nefarious and corrupting ideas to our youth can be seen in our colleges and universities as well. Surely there is no greater repository of lies and untruths than a good academic library. Rather than delivering the right (and righteous) thinking to students; academic librarians inculcate our youth with “information literacy” that replaces established authority with questions of evidence, sourcing, and my friends, debate.

I must be clear, libraries are not about places and materials as we have been led to believe. Books and buildings can do no harm. It is the people, the librarians and library staff themselves that are the perpetrators of this conspiracy for the minds of the young and impressionable. There are libraries in the hearts of most of our K-12 schools. Yet it is only those staffed by qualified professionals with an active “library program” that change the minds of our children. Sure these librarians have a demonstrated ability to raise test scores, but they also have been actively engaged in near seditious “inquiry-based learning” that allows students to drive their own independent learning freed from the comforting confines of state-approved curricula.

In our public libraries 3D printers, maker spaces, and library sponsored hack-a-thons are creating the dangerous idea that innovation, manufacturing, and production can be ripped from the hands of the powerful and placed in the unready hands of the novice.

Worse still, librarians over the millennia have moved beyond their buildings. Libraries played a key role in the birth of the Renaissance. At the feet of libraries and those that ran them we can lay social disruptions such as the Enlightenment, the explosion of mathematics and architecture in Moorish Spain, and the rise of science itself.

Is it any wonder that revolutions threw off the yoke of authority and colonialism when public libraries in the US were born out of social movements? It turns out when you remove barriers of cost and class and make learning widely available to all, change happens that often disrupts the norms of an entrenched society. Libraries of all types are indeed seemingly safe places to engage with dangerous ideas.

And librarians are only getting more brazen in their attempts at social engineering. This year the American Libraries has put forth a campaign that talks of how “Libraries Transform.” The campaign uses phrases like “because students can’t afford scholarly journals on a ramen noodle budget,” flaunting their ideals of access for all. Librarians seek clearly to situate themselves in our most sacred of democratic principles by noting that “there are more than 14,400,000 search results for the 2016 presidential election,” as if the right people don’t already have access to the right information needed to direct the country?! And they even flaunt their early victory of corrupting the youth through the literary novel with the line “because 5 out of 5 doctors agree reading aloud to children supports brain development.”

Folks, it is National Library Week and the librarians are out for our children. If we continue to accept, or worse, perpetuate the stereotype of libraries as places full of books, or even relics of a bygone era we will have handed a victory to the free thinkers. It is time for us to stand up to this clear act of social engineering and see librarians for what they truly are: educators devoted to spreading dangerous ideas of learning, democracy, inclusion, and empowerment to everyone in society regardless of class; ethnicity; sexual orientation and identity; or location. It is time we stop romanticizing librarianship and confront them. If librarians are going to seek to indoctrinate their principles into our children they should have to do it in the open.

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Books, news, and ideas from MIT Press

The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.