For all sorts of reasons, I’m glad I don’t have to live in Oak Brook, IL, especially if I were still a little girl who likes libraries. A kind reader sent this story to me. It tells the sad tale of one man’s crusade to destroy public libraries and make little girls cry, preferably at the same time. When an 11-year-old girl spoke out in a public meeting against firing the three librarians, she received a stiff rejoinder from criminal attorney Constatine Xinos which reduced her to tears:
"Those who come up here with tears in their eyes talking about the library, put your money where your mouth is…. Don’t cry crocodile tears about people who are making $100,000 a year wiping tables and putting the books back on the shelves…." He said Oak Brook had to "stop indulging people in their hobbies" and "their little, personal, private wants."
"I wanted that kid to lose sleep that night," a grinning Xinos says Wednesday, as he invites me for a nearly two-hour interview in his Mercedes-Benz in the gated Oak Brook community where he lives. "This is the real world and the lesson, you folks who brought your kids here, is if you want something, pay for it."
Having grown up one himself, he also doesn’t like poor people. "I don’t want to live next to poor people. I don’t want poor people in my town."
In general, he just seems like a classy guy. "Xinos, who says he never had children in part because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to support them, sprinkles the F-word throughout his conversations. He dismisses a recent library event involving dogs with a blunt three-word rant in which he bookends swear words around the word ‘that.’"
Apparently the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future haven’t visited him yet. Maybe they can’t get through the gates of his "community."
He thinks he’s conservative, but I’m not so sure. "’I understand that my philosophy is conservative,’ Xinos says, adding that government just needs to catch bad guys, put out fires, fix the streets and make sure buildings are sturdy." If he wants to consider himself "conservative," that’s fine, but I don’t see anything particularly conservative about eliminating public libraries (or schools or museums). That isn’t conservative. It’s just unenlightened self-interest. True conservatives want to cultivate the local institutions that can focus and support their communities. People who want to destroy public institutions are just radicals.
One wonders whether Xinos ever attended a public school or university. If he really grew up poor in Berwyn, I’m betting he did. If so, this makes his "conservative" "philosophy" even more difficult to take seriously. Even the rich benefit from public institutions, but the poor benefit even more from them. His inconsistent "philosophy" seems to be, "public educational institutions shouldn’t exist, now that I don’t benefit directly from the anymore."
The fired Oak Brook librarians are trying to bring in the Teamsters (whom Xinos – surprise, surprise – also doesn’t like), and, who knows, possibly the ALA will involve itself in this case. I suspect the Teamsters would be more effective than the ALA. They probably at least have some baseball bats to enforce their will.
Xinos will never be persuaded of the shortsightedness of his views, but some people could perhaps be persuaded of the value of libraries, even to a rich enclave like Oak Brook. However, the battle won’t be won with lists of "banned" books that librarians are supposedly defending, or stories about how librarians aren’t all the stereotypical shushing maids of yore, or rousing manifestos about how videogames or Twitter are going to save libraries.
Librarians have got to start emphasizing more than ever their role in educating the public rather than pushing the techno-fluff they so often do now. "Woo hoo, we’ve got videogames! Woo hoo, we write a blog!" Who cares? Everyone has videogames and blogs. Librarians can stay on the cutting edge of technology and gaming all they like, but if they continue to do so in the ways they often do now, then there’s not much of a public argument to be made for them. Unfortunately, the librarians one hears the most from these days seem to think gaming or "social media" will save us all, but unless we come up with credible reasons why libraries support the common good, there’ll be no libraries in Twopointopia.
Reading, literacy, education. Librarians need to show that’s what they increase and that increasing them is good for communities. One good children’s librarian can do considerably more for a community than an army of library bloggers and Tweeters. The frustrated trendsetters want to turn libraries into high tech entertainment centers, but most people can get all the high tech entertainment they want at home. The people who pay taxes to support libraries are already on the better side of the digital divide. If that’s what libraries are about, then the Xinoses of the world will win.