Monday, July 6, 2009

A Place And It's Purpose

It struck me this weekend the issue of place is another one of those issues completely ignored, or perhaps actually systematically attacked in modern times. Many people think of place as a negative, as in the phrase 'putting someone in their place,' but those with no place would appreciate it, for then they would have what they currently do not. Perhaps this is a bit confusing, so I will give an example of a place and it's current degradations.

Historically, libraries were created (and funded) for self-improvement through self-directed education. Of course, within such a purpose, there is plenty of room for a broad collection of things. People wanting to learn to write fiction, for instance, benefit from reading good fiction. There is an element of subjectivity to such decisions, and precisely because of this, one cannot use some sort of code. We can, however, identify that which is dehumanizing, objectifying, and obviously not a very good example of good work as stuff that does not belong in the library.

Extremely violent horror movies which depict torture and dismemberment don't fit within a library, obviously for moral reasons, but even more importantly for reasons of place. If you have a civil war museum in your town, but it suddenly started displaying Elvis memorabilia, you'd notice there was a problem. And if the museum directors refused to come to their senses and wandered further away from their purpose, those that funded the museum would come to feel they weren't getting what they paid for.

Libraries in this country have largely succumbed to a disease (they are probably infected by the American Library Association). They call reasonable collection management censorship, and once they abandon their original purpose, begin to speak of trying to be relevant to the community. In the absence of meaning, they begin to see circulation statistics as the primary indicator of their value to the community.

Circulation stats, unfortunately do not point to a lot of self-improvement through self-directed education being done, for once one does a little looking, one finds nearly all increase is from entertainment. Are the funders of libraries that different from funders of museums? In any case, I do believe that as more people come to view libraries as free entertainment rather than as places of self-improvement, we shall find budgets getting cut sharply.

I find the charge of censorship in particular most offensive for the following reason. In China the government actively censors and tries to keep vital information out of their citizens hands. Here the effect is acheived by filling practically every source of information full of fluff. We know so very much about celebrities and practically nothing about what's going on in the world. Subsitute education with diversion and viola! We know less than the Chinese.

Hopefully, this is a good example of place, without too much digression. It's a place I love, and a place I fear is dying. I don't believe the threat is the internet, because I engage in self-directed education all the time, and when I use the internet, I find out about books that I'd like to read. It is very unusual for me to actually find these books in the library, so it's pretty clear it can no longer be relied on for it's purpose, and it's obvious that this is happening because of people who are choosing not to respect place. Perhaps they don't even understand place. They probably want entertainment in church too, and it is obvious there are too many people in too many places willing to oblige them.

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