LIBRARY OF PROGRESS
Re: G. Tracy Mehan, III’s Purging the Classics From the Local Library:
In reference to Mr. Mehan’s article on the Fairfax County Library’s ruthless purging of texts — I am a lifelong resident of Annandale, Virginia and use the library system regularly and have watched as books have disappeared from the catalog.
One of my favorite books is Harvey Cushing’s brilliant life of Sir William Osler — a book for which Cushing, a distinguished neurosurgeon, won the Pullitzer Prize (1925). One copy of this book was available in the Fairfax County system — and I tried to check it out once in a while to make sure that it stayed in the system. I neglected my duties for the past few years and the book is now gone — shame on me.
Librarians, when not chatting about their pets, like to talk about a thing called “serendipitous browsing” that occurs when a patron wandering the stacks comes across a title by accident and is enlightened. Some of my favorite books have come to me in this way — especially Cushing’s Life of Osler.
One has to wonder what the content of those stacks would be like if they were only to be filled with books people have checked out over the previous two years. If we are to judge by the quality of the television shows they watch, the music they listen to, the news services they revere and the politicians they elect, someday soon I may have to browse my old Mad magazines for pith.
— Joseph Provenzano
Fairfax County Librarian Patron
While I share Mr. Mehan’s dismay with libraries resorting to removal of timeless works of literature in an effort to save money and provide space for what their patrons say they want, I have to wonder whether the emphasis of his article is on the wrong problem. Nothing in his piece would indicate that librarians in Fairfax County or anywhere else have conspired with one another to purge every vestige of great literature from library shelves. Mr. Mehan did not uncover any plot keep Americans unrefined and uneducated. It seems to me that the people using the libraries made that decision for themselves by preferring the banal to the profound.
Like others in our mostly shallow and superficial world, those who frequent libraries obviously prefer information communicated to them in the fastest, most viscerally appealing manner possible without regard to any long-term value. This desire for style over substance merely proves that the majority of Americans long ago abandoned intellectual pursuits and opted instead for unlimited access to mindless entertainment and sexual titillation. Most folks are so preoccupied with the temporal they completely lose sight of the transcendent. Parents encourage this attitude by not demanding more from themselves or their children when making decisions about what they read. Schools exacerbate the problem when they reject classic literature in favor of trendy, politically correct propaganda with little or no permanent literary value.
There is a reason great literature survives the test of time. The principles and ideals embodied in these works have universal application to people living in any age. The great protagonists in classic literature struggle with problems endemic to the human condition. These morality plays demonstrate for us the rewards of good choices and the consequences of bad ones. Finding answers to life’s great questions requires much effort and deep reflection. The problem today is that the self-absorbed narcissism of our culture obscures our ability to see the worth of anything requiring more than a 20-second attention span.
Lee’s Summit, Missouri
I am deeply sympathetic to Mr. Mehan’s “cultivated judgments in these literary matters,” and, like him, bemoan the ongoing trivialization of American culture. But I cannot agree with him that it is a travesty for the public libraries in Fairfax, Virginia, to be moving towards a customer-centered operating model.
Taxpayer dollars should not be spent on maintaining public library collections that contain the likes of Virgil’s Aeneid, The Works of Aristotle, or The Education of Henry Adams, for no real purpose than to pretend that these works are still important to the great mass of ordinary people. They are not. If they were, maybe at least one person would check them out more than once every two years, keeping them off the “purge” list. (As Mark Twain said, a classic book is one that people praise but don’t read.)
Moreover, books are extremely cheap in this country, and there are numerous avenues for interested readers to obtain almost anything they want to read. Indeed, I suspect that the classics are not in demand in public libraries precisely because the people who want to read these works are much more likely to purchase their own copy. So a lack of access to the classics is hardly a problem.
Why then should public libraries use up limited resources and shelf space to stock such books? If there is any justification for public libraries in 2007 (an open question), surely it is to provide the less well off members of our society with an opportunity to obtain desired reading materials. If such people prefer to read John Grisham to Charlotte Bronte, then that is what public libraries should make available.
What Mr. Mehan really is upset about is the public’s taste in literature. Again, as a person who enjoys the classics and believes they have something important to offer us, I share his concern. But it really isn’t the responsibility of the public library system to spend taxpayer dollars trying to “elevate” the reading preferences of the public. (Query whether the circulation statistics from public libraries are even an accurate barometer of the public’s taste in literature?) A private library or other private institution can play this role if it wants.
But a government agency should serve the public in the most cost-effective manner possible. It sounds like the public libraries in Fairfax are trying to do just that. Would that more government agencies did the same.
— Steven M. Warshawsky
What the Fairfax library is doing is not new. Twenty-plus years ago I worked for a major southwestern public library. The practice of culling the shelves took place back then, too. Fortunately I worked in the archives and we were able to acquire culled items for our collection, thus giving them a stay of execution.
Libraries need to rethink what their purpose in life is. They are not supposed to be a coffee shop cum bookstore, but rather a repository of knowledge. Rather then permanently removing books from their shelves maybe libraries should consider establishing a facility for the storage of infrequently used materials. For any library system this could be a warehouse type facility. All materials stored there would still be available for use, but on a delayed basis. a smaller staff of clerks would be on hand to retrieve and reshelve materials.
With online computer card catalogs library users are able to request materials in advance of arriving at the library. With this capability items in inactive storage could be retrieved within 24 hours. These same materials are also available for inter-library loan.
But there is one other thing that is even worse than the culling of inactive books, and that is the selection of materials. Next time you visit your public library see how many copies of Robert Spencer’s books they have on hand versus the latest PC-friendly view of Islam.
Check to see how many copies of Ann Coulter’s books are available throughout the system. The dirty little secret is that librarians like journalists are primarily to the left of center and this is reflected in the materials that they select for the library shelves.
— Peter Kurilecz
The author blames the librarians of Fairfax County for purging supposedly valuable literary works from the limited shelves available to them.
This is odd, since The American Spectator has always championed the decisions made by a free and unfettered market.
So, in the free-market spirit, shouldn’t the librarians be defended for facilitating the will of the market? After all, if the library book-consuming residents of Fairfax County exhibit no interest in these books, why should the librarians continue to stock them, given their space constraints?
At the end of the day this is nothing more than a typical leftist maneuver to pick the pockets of the taxpayers and then throw a pie in their face for good measure.
Fairfax County Public Library’s (FCPL) decision to remove from it’s shelves books that aren’t often read is an entirely appropriate decision for a book store; not a library. If FCPL’s funds come only from its patrons — and not the county’s taxpayers as a whole — then, by all means, cater to pulp fiction aficionados, comic book enthusiasts, movie viewers, video game players, etc. and provide whatever legal product the customers want. Said customers will soon find that it is far cheaper to buy their fare from local retailers than it is to fund Fairfax County Public Library’s 21 branches with its associated employees and inventory-management infrastructure. Compare the capital investment required for such an elaborate library system with that of a newsstand/hotdog vendor, yet both entities will provide you with the latest John Grisham novel. The difference is that the newsstand will do so at a fraction of the cost and, as an added benefit, actually have the book in stock. If there are a few souls here and there who want something other than one of the current bestsellers, which won’t be found in the newsstand/hot dog vendor’s inventory, well, it is for that precise reason that libraries are built.
The purpose of a library is to accumulate books, rare or otherwise, to be available to its patrons. But, if anything, a library’s focus ought to be to preserve the rarest and most unpopular books in its collection. After all, popular books are easily and more efficiently obtained elsewhere.
If FCPL is more concerned about providing it’s patrons with the latest offerings, per their demand, than it is with fulfilling its charter, then the library and its patrons should put their money where their mouths are and the library should become privately funded. Which returns us to the original premise: using a public institution and the public’s funds to cater to the consumption habits of a selected subset of the public is simply subsidizing that group of citizens at the expense of others and as such is not the proper use of that government’s charter, or of any other’s.
Perhaps the real debate should not be which books are stocked on a library’s shelves, but whether libraries should be publicly or privately funded. Once that debate is decided, the inventory discussion should take care of itself.
—R. Trotter, former frequent patron of FCPL
This is a great article regretting the fate of our local libraries in general and Fairfax County, Virginia, in particular. But is there something more insidious involved than just errant librarians?
Fairfax County has the fastest-growing population of Muslims in the United States second only to Dearborn, Michigan. I wonder if this could be another inroad being made by Islamic radicals; and I fear we ignore the signs of a growing problem to our own detriment.
Well, yes, they are a bunch of Philistines out there in rural Fairfax County. Thank goodness I live in fashionable, good-taste Arlington.
That aside, today’s “public libraries” have become little more than daytime hangouts for vagrants, communications centers for yootful cell-phoners and terrorist emailers, and taxpayer-supported video stores where po’ folks can rent DVDs for free. Today’s real Public Library is one’s local Borders or Barnes & Noble store, with their ridiculously cheap Penguin Classics and Library of America volumes, ridiculously overpriced screeds by the likes of Jimmy Carter, nice comfortable urine-free chairs, and friendly coffee bars.
One might even argue that public libraries are even better candidates for privatization than is the Post Office.
— Doug Welty
Our community (of 1000) just expanded its Carnegie Library through community donations of $300,000.
The expansion was done, not so much for the books, but to keep up appearances and for increased meeting room space for community organizations. Whether they actually use the space remains to be seen.
I personally have never used our public library for anything. I find the big book stores much better stocked. Their offerings are broader than Librarians would ever permit. For instance, Milton Friedman’s works are rarely stocked in even nearby medium sized Municipal libraries (I have checked).
What your column grapples with is merely an extension of what has been going on for many years. It is a surprise the Library people made such a public admission of their intent. Usually such things are done naturally, out of philosophical hand, with little fanfare. Booting Hemingway is a surprise, given he took up with the wrong side, and has always been popular with the left. Surely, they will rescue him.
Libraries in rural communities are even more problematic given what’s on the internet and its comparative ease of use. We now have three hairpin turns leading to our library for the disabled, but the Internet’s utility and ease of use vastly exceeds that of hairpin turns.
What might be a solution for the Librarian mindset would be a requirement that all head librarians have a degree in Business or Economics.
But enough of this. I must get on with defeating environmentalists who are attempting to zone our rural county’s portion of the Missouri River. No school of catfish is worth a single farmer’s property rights.
— R.D. Volkman
Sorry, this is a dud. You are raising a false alarm. Any book not at your local public library or in the local public library system can always be obtained through inter-library loan through the same public library. The inter-library loan system includes college and university libraries and other library systems that warehouse books. Public libraries generally don’t store books like an archives. They only keep what will be popular on their shelves. Most have very limited shelf space. Perhaps you and your friends could form a club to check out the classics at the public library so that their use will rival that of recent bestsellers.
— David Bartlett
Re: James Bowman’s review of We Are Marshall:
Learning of the crash of Southern Airways 932 was like hearing Jack Kennedy had been assassinated. If you lived in West Virginia then and are of a certain age, chances are you know exactly where you were when you heard that terrible, unthinkable news.
Many states were represented on victims’ roster. It included a father and son, and several husband-wife couples. Six team members’ bodies remain unidentified.
So, for me, it sticks in my craw that West Virginian Randy Moss, born years after the plane crash, said the crash “really wasn’t nothing big.”
— C. Kenna Amos
Princeton, West Virginia
TO KNOW, KNOW, KNOW HIM….
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s Bush Knows:
If there is a sell-out on taxes or (another one on) judges, Jeb Bush (regardless of his record in Florida) will be one victim of his brother’s surrender to Democrats. The result will be the future campaign slogan: “Read Our Lips: No New Bushes.”
— Cliff Thier
As the only Republican President not to have raised taxes in his first six years in office Bush is less likely to raise them than, say, President Reagan, who working with Democrats (to appease fiscal conservatives) gave us numerous and substantial increases. Democrats and conservatives too often misunderestimate President Bush’s strength, courage and resolve to stay true to his core principles.
Sadly, we would not be in this position if we had avoided our most recent “crack up.” When people were writing so cavalierly in the pages of TAS that we could “afford to throw away or lose an election,” to “go ahead vote for a third party” or worse yet “stay home” they got what they wanted — a radical Democrat Congress. Teaching the Republicans a “lesson” was like cutting off our nose’s to spite our face.
As for Jim Webb “blowing off the President” what should we expect from a misogynist, racist MINO? The hopes of misguided conservatives that “conservative” (gag, puke, and wretch) Democrats like Webb would rein in the radicals is magical thinking at its best. By undercutting real conservatives (DeWine, Santorum, Burns, Talent, and Allen) with more than a year of carping, the “whiney right” helped elect Webb, McCaskill, Tester, Casey, and Brown. Now we’ve got to live with them for at least six years. “Principled conservatives,” my big toe.
Jacksonville, North Carolina
After years of talk-the-talk of “bipartisanship,” I think it’s time that George W. Bush and all Republicans — and also all Democrats — be brought to the realization that “bipartisan cooperation” doesn’t mean doing whatever the Democrats want.
Cape Coral, Florida
Mr. Tyrrell: You must have a well-polished and perfectly functioning crystal ball. There is precious little in the track record of this President that would indicate that he either “knows” or cares about what the Republican base will or will not put up with.
My crystal ball was broken several years ago. Even with that handicap, I’ll give you a little hip-pocket guess based on my observations of this President over the past six years. Here it is: Mr Bush’s veto pen will not find its way out of its case even a single time over the next two years. The Democrats will get all the tax increases, minimum wage increases and big government boondoggles they want. Further, he and the Democrats will conspire to pass a complete amnesty for illegal aliens currently in this country and all who wish to follow them — Republican base be damned.
— Keith Kunzler
It is illuminating to compare and contrast Reagan’s largely successful presidency with Bush’s largely failed presidency (in my opinion).
Reagan never missed a chance to say “There they go again — spending your tax money on boondoggles, sacking the economy that provides your job, undermining your good morals and culture, and making the world more dangerous with a weak defense.”
Contrast that with Bush, who never fails to fail to take the opportunity of an open mic to hold his opponents accountable for their massive policy failures and bad faith. Thanks to Bush’s fetish for never being specifically critical, the American electorate is left utterly in the dark as to why Republicans are even different, much less better than, Democrats.
It is understandable that Republicans – who’s religious, cultural, and business principles and experience give them clear sight as to how the world actually works — cannot resist the urge to “just get something done.”
They can’t get their heads around the idea that maybe the other guy doesn’t want to “just get something done” because he has another agenda. So they fail when, like Ford, Bush, and Bush, they too much admire their own civility and competency and disdain the bare-knuckle ugliness that is modern politics.
Consider this: half the young people I know in my workplace voted for Democrats in the last election, despite the fact that they all believe Social Security has screwed their futures. Nobody has connected the dots for them as to who created the mess, using what flawed socialist principles, or why these flawed principles must always lead to the destruction of the program itself.
Bushie Republicans fail to understand that governing doesn’t mean running off and getting the job done and coming back to the electorate to say “gee, look at me, I’m a good steward.” It means your first step must be holding the other guy accountable for his policy failures every day, so that you can contrast why your policies are an improvement. That is step one; don’t bother lifting the legislative pen until you’ve done it. Until 60% of the people understand and agree that the other guy’s policy has failed and that he and his party are to blame, you can forget getting anything done in a way that will stick.
Yes, I said it: Partisan blame and finger-pointing. Not personal attack or incivility, but attacking the other guy’s real policy failures. Yes, Katie Couric will get really mad if you do this. So will your pollster. Get over it.
It may be sad, but goodwill cooperation is a failed approach given today’s Democrat. You can forgive Bush for not getting this in the first or second year, or even the first term, but at this point it is inexcusable professional incompetence to persist in this failed approach. The white-shoe self-described Republican realists should grow up and get real about this. (Just read the deranged venomous attacks posted on Bush after his kissy-face WSJ column. Nicey-niceness availed him nothing. The MSM and rabid blog thugs still blame the man, who won’t criticize anybody, for the lack of civil tone in D.C.). The only thing that will work is attacking their failures in front of the voting public until you can, like Reagan, peel off 10% of their votes.
The job is not to convince your political opponent to work with you; he never will. The job is to go over his head and convince 60% of the public to tell him to work with you or else. That’s the language he understands.
Bush must get over the vanity of “getting something done” in his last two years. The only thing he can do now is lay the foundation with the public that he failed to lay before. That will take at least two years. But if he does a good job of it then just maybe the next standard-bearer can run with it in 2008.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
I agree with most of what you say — but: Look at how his brother operates and wins and how the president operates and mostly loses. Jeb Bush led his party in Florida (where i live). President Bush has tried to persuade and has mostly lost. His lieutenants have let him down drastically from tom DeLay to Denny Hastert. Jeb Bush would have made them fear paying a price. Too bad we can’t draft Jeb for the top job.
— Annette Cwik
“Mr. Bush spent most of his adult life as a businessman, not as a politician.” Which is why we need a businessman, not a politician, for president.
Painted Post, New York
Re: Hal G.P. Colebatch’s Knighthoods Mocked:
“Knighthoods Mocked” by Hal G.P. Colebatch is such a brilliant summary of an aspect of Blair’s Britain. It follows the numerous painfully accurate articles previously written by Mr. Colebatch on Blair’s New Labour legacy and on Blair himself. In his inference that somehow the British public will see through Blair’s cheapening of honors and public ceremony and therefore perhaps turn against him, I feel the sad reality is that there is nothing around to motivate such national uprising. Where are the alternative ideas and honorable ideologies in our political arena? There is also the small detail that we’re governed from Brussels. For a population to vote in greater numbers for a TV national Pop Idol competition than in the last General Election speaks volumes. Prime Minister Blair, for example, runs a country in which the executives of private rail companies are reportedly allowed to get away with raising ticket prices (to levels that are over and above inflation) as a means of reducing overcrowding on their trains. What genius business strategy is this, I wonder? Mr. Blair runs a country where government ministers support measures to cut national health service costs, such as hospital closures, as long as such closures don’t occur in their own constituencies. Where’s the national interest or the joined-up strategy? I look forward to reading the next exposition by Hal Colebatch; it reminds me how much this country has fallen and why I don’t vote anymore.
— Graham Constable
Re: Eric Peters’ Who Misses Oldsmobile?:
My husband and I watched the Barrett-Jackson auction for a while the other night. The cars were selling for unbelievable sums. One of the most expensive was a ‘cuda. Another car for sale was a Corvette. When the feds decided that we needed to cut down on car weight and Detroit decided it was invincible, the two forces began the downward spiral that is now the American car. Could this be the law of unintended consequences? My husband loves cars made before the middle ’70s.
Nearly every day there is news from Atlanta, the nearest city, of some kids killing themselves in cars. They love those sporty little cars to drive. Well, even the most expensive is a light weight in can with very little dash board and the hopes of an airbag as a safety net. Or they are big SUVs that can roll over without much warning. I remember kids in the ’50s and ’60s who drove just as fast but they had “tanks” to drive and dashboards that looked 5 feet thick. I don’t remember many fatalities. Maybe I just don’t have the numbers and could be wrong but when I get in a 1960 something car I feel like I am surrounded by some real tough stuff.
What about Al Gore’s toilets that use less water? I live in the country and use a well. It takes three flushes to get a piece of toilet paper to disappear. Thanks, Al!
What about our inability to drill for oil or make new refineries? Could that be the reason for the unrest in the Middle East which Bush and our soldiers have to deal with?
Welfare is another one. The women who were supposed to be supported when they lost their husbands were soon supplanted by many thousands who had babies with no idea of marriage or any plans for the future.
I am scared of this new Congress. They are going to pass laws that my children and grandchildren will have to pay for. The Democrats are so dangerous because they pretend to be for the “little” guy. Has Ted Kennedy given up his compound living for a tenement? How about Pelosi?
When you think about it, the ’50s and ’60s had people who still had hopes for our future. I don’t hear that much anymore.
— Kay Clinard
Yes, I miss Plymouth. My first car was a 1974 Plymouth Duster, which I liked very much. However, things change and the auto industry isn’t the same as it was. The UAW thought only of themselves, believing, like most children, the good times were going to roll on forever. Ford and GM must prune the vine and shed the weight previous contract negotiators placed on the shoulders of their respective companies.
GM could probably make it with Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac. More than that and GM will be gone with the wind.
It has been said that death is the price of stupidity. So, if you want someone to blame, then blame the UAW and left-wing government for making it so expensive to do business. While you are at it, you can point a few fingers at the management of Ford and GM for their cowardice in contract negotiations.
— Richard L. Hardison
Waynesville, North Carolina
“GM keeps Buick and Pontiac mainly because it has no choice — or faces choices as unappealing as ditching the brands themselves.”
An interesting dilemma, but it’s not only the unions robbing the company blind. Pontiac executives are still getting huge salary increases and bonuses. I have never been a wholehearted supporter of unions, but how can anyone expect the unions to accept cuts when the executives take larger and larger bonuses and raises? Isn’t it time for all General Motors employees to work for the benefit of the corporation rather than just grabbing what they can before they run? Maybe that is just too much to ask.
— Judy Beumler
Regarding Mr. Lott and/or the Editor’s insistence that “Mr. Lott was not mistaken about Churchill’s reluctance to allow Nazi war criminals formal trials,” see this link, which corroborates the assertion in the first paragraph of my earlier letter to the editor. See also the “World at War” Episode 25, “Reckoning,” position 22:03, interview with Lord Shawcross, chief British prosecutor at the first Nuremberg trial:
Stalin at the Yalta Conference, which was attended by President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, said that he thought that 50,000 of the German general staff and officers should be gathered together and summarily executed. He wasn’t joking. President Roosevelt thought he was. President Roosevelt said, “oh well perhaps 49,000.” But Churchill said that he’d rather be taken out into the garden and shot at once than be a party to such an inequity. But the Russians persisted almost until the end in saying that there should be no trial, these men were criminals and they should be immediately executed the moment they were caught.
Newton, New Jersey
Jeremy Lott replies:
I think it’s possible that we’re both right. That is, Churchill wanted some very high level Nazi officials hanged without trial, but he didn’t want killing on a Russian scale.