Thursday, 10 January 2008

Libraries pandering to the fashionable cult of ignorance

I am sure that Bob Usherwood won't mind if I reproduce his letter from The Independent (5th December 2007).

Libraries pandering to the fashionable cult of ignorance
Sir: As a past president of what used to be known as the Library Association, I congratulate Hermione Eyre on her perceptive piece on the perils facing our public libraries (1 December). Research for a recent book has led me to believe that many, but not all, responsible for the service no longer have confidence in its core values and are confused about how to defend them.
It is suggested that if you provide demanding material and activities, people will not come through the doors. This is part of a wider, and what many might regard as a patronising, argument that few people are interested in the world around them or appreciate high art or aesthetic values, and that the poor and disadvantaged in particular crave escapism of the easiest kind, or material that provides an instrumental outcome.
I find it amazing and depressing that it is regarded as elitist for public libraries to redistribute the wealth of information and ideas. Providing access to knowledge is one of the greatest contributions that libraries can make to social inclusion. It is one that benefits individuals and society at large. Ignorance excludes people from much that is important and valuable.
We are beginning to pay the price for the fashionable celebration of ignorance, and the modish dismissal of education. Ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand and the library service should set its face against both. Importing a vacuous culture and tabloid values into public libraries is to betray their past and an abuse of public funds. It may be too late for some, but encouraged by Ms Eyre and others who care we need the professional and political leaders of the library world to understand the perils of populism, recognise that ignorance is not our heritage and formulate a suitable vision for the future.
Professor Bob Usherwood

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