Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Fighting Libraries in Oakland

For many reasons, I’m glad I don’t live in Oakland. If it’s not bad enough to be the fifth most dangerous city in America, now the mayor is threatening to shut down 90% of library services. The persons arguing past each other in the comments to that last article aren’t sure if the mayor is making the threat to try to get another tax passed, or to get the police and fire department unions to make concessions.

Apparently, those unions haven’t made the concessions the other unions have. If the police union made concessions, they could have to make cuts, which would reduce their sterling record. Oakland might surpass St. Louis to become the most dangerous city in America. That’ll show people!

The anti-library contingent in what passes for a discussion on the article seems to consist of one person who calls him or herself “The Boss.”

Reading his rants reminded me of my old arguments with Cranky Marxist Dude about politically radicalizing the ALA. He never had any decent arguments, but he sure loved repeating himself. As I’ve learned from the Regressive Librarians, there’s no point in arguing with fanatics.

“The Boss” clearly doesn’t like libraries. “In this digital age they serve no purpose.” When someone points out various purposes they serve, such as being community centers, or that people still use them to read actual books, he doesn’t like that either.

“Libraries are NOT social programs. They are like roads, but dispensing information instead of transit. Problem is the Internet is better than any library. So, libraries have become community centers distributing social programs. This is wrong. The libraries should be shut down.”

I guess he’s right that libraries aren’t social programs. Jesse Shera considered them social institutions, though, and if it was good enough for Jesse, it’s good enough for me.

Bossy people like to speak in bold absolutes, a sure sign they don’t think clearly. “The Internet is better than any library” is a good example. Any library? Really? Have you visited the Library of Congress lately? Or the Bibliothèque Nationale?

Absolute rubbish. The Internet is full of porn, content farms, and political echo chambers. What passes for information on the free Web is sad compared to what’s available in good libraries.

“The Boss” is convinced that ebooks spell the end of public libraries. “The purpose of the library has ended. In 10 years people won’t even use books anymore. Barnes and Noble just sold to an investor group on the strength of the Nook platform. Soon all their stores will close.” So people won’t use books because Barnes and Noble built the Nook?

I think there’s a danger ebooks pose to public libraries, but it’s called DRM. Apparently the real problem isn’t that people won’t read books. It’s that no one will use libraries because “anyone who is up with the times is busy getting rid of their books and replacing them with a Nook, Kindle, etc.” It’s hard not to snicker at that one.

I must have missed something about ebooks, because I wasn’t aware that ebooks and ebook reading devices were the same thing. “The Boss” apparently thinks they are, and handing someone a Kindle in equivalent to handing them a library.

I’m not sure how else to explain the previous comment, or this one:  “Didn’t Oakland just recently announce the construction of a new library? What a laugh. I wonder how many Kindles one could have bought for that money. Such a waste.”

Anti-library types usually aren’t just anti-library. They’re anti-government, period. For example, they honestly believe that “Life is better today than it was 200 years ago almost entirely because of private enterprise.”

I find it remarkable that people can be so blind. Capitalism is a glorious thing that has produced comforts and wonders, but it requires a lot of mental effort not to see the obvious benefits brought to the country by public schools and hospitals, Social Security, Medicare, and even libraries, not to mention the military that protects us from hordes of violent Canadians.

Maybe studying some American history prior to the New Deal would be a good idea. Without massive public investment in social programs, educational institutions, and scientific research, life would manifestly not be better for the vast majority of people than it was a hundred years ago. It sucked then, it would suck now.

The anti-government types also believe that “Government is inherently corrupt and slows progress.” Sweeping statements like that are obviously impossible to prove, so they’re matters of faith instead of reason. Those with an unproven faith that government is evil tend to see evil government everywhere.

You see, government is the opposite of “free enterprise,” and if you don’t think government is inherently corrupt you haven’t been paying attention. “On the free enterprise topic, honestly if the Soviet experience, north Korea and the great leap forward don’t convince you the I certainly can’t.” Right. North Korea. Good analogy to America.

Somehow I’ve never seen an American politician who actually wants to eliminate free enterprise. That’s strange when we’re in constant danger of becoming like North Korea if we keep helping the old and sick or letting people get free books.

It’s also odd that the same person who thinks that government is inherently corrupt and that almost all improvements in life come from “private enterprise” would believe that we should even have a government. But they do!

Despite being inherently corrupt, “Govt has its place, and that place is roughly 20% of GDP.” It’s not clear how we arrive at that figure. There’s something about government needing to regulate capitalism to protect it from excesses. Regulating capitalism to protect it? That’s starting to sound like socialism to me. Whatever it is, it’s inconsistent.

One person who believes in the provision of public services who was foolish enough to think that you can reason with fanatics “appears to live off in Stalinland.” Stalin! Oh my, I’m frightened. Just like I’m terrified for the Jews every time some liberal compares a Republican to Hitler.

She kept at it, though. “I am a business owner in the U.S. with relatives who were oppressed by Stalin, actually.”

It was a waste of time. “It wasn’t an off hand remark; it was descriptive. I am very sorry for your relatives. I am perplexed that you don’t see your beliefs tread the same path.” Another good analogy to the U.S. “Living off in Stalinland” is definitely “descriptive.” It’s describing the mental state of someone who apparently knows nothing about either Stalin or Oakland or both, but sees a red under every bed.

Given the hegemony of Wall Street over American politics, I have to wonder what blinkered world someone lives in who thinks America is ever in any danger from communism.

Oakland libraries might close because the city has no money, but if “The Boss” is any indication of an anti-library campaign, at least they won’t lose the intellectual battle.

But in America that’s never enough. I’m reminded of Adlai Stevenson running for President against Eisenhower. A woman in a crowd shouted that he had the vote of every thinking American, to which he replied, “thank you, but I need a majority to win.”

I would hope no one is foolish enough to confuse public libraries with communism, but some people apparently are. No less a capitalist than Andrew Carnegie was smart enough not to confuse the provision of public libraries with communism. If it was good enough for Andrew, it’s good enough for me.



  1. Fat Guy says:

    Bravo AL!

  2. Bummer, I thought that Bruce Springsteen would be a library supporter…

  3. Carol Sicherman says:

    Unlike Annoyed Librarian, I live in Oakland and am glad that I do, having moved here three years ago from Westchester County, New York. Does Annoyed Librarian know about the petition drive to support continued funding for the Oakland library system? Everyone I know has signed it. The mayor’s tactics are confusing to me, too. It would be good if commentators, however sympathetic to our woes, did not repeat cliches about Oakland. Large parts of the city are attractive and safe, including the main business area. It has become a gourmet mecca. It has the greatest ethnic variety of any city in the U.S. of its size, and communities get along. There are vast swathes of gorgeous free public parks. It is the home of Mountain View Cemetery, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, where many luminaries and common folk of the Bay Area are buried.

  4. minor point says:

    Not to be a stickler, but the only comments about the city of Oakland itself were in the first few sentences, saying only that Oakland is the 5th most dangerous city in America. That’s not a cliche, that’s a fact.

  5. that does it. I’m burning all my Springsteen records.

  6. that’s what I get for not refreshing the page for 4 hours and having someone beat me to the joke..

  7. A++++. Great article.

  8. YoungLibrarian says:

    Wonderful entry! The anti-library supporters are everywhere but the funny thing is I see many of their children being dropped off here regularly. -.-

  9. Okay. So, there’s a crazy person in Oakland. Who knew?


    For a dying and pointless institution, mine has been pretty darned busy this week, what with the start of summer reading, programming, and, oh yeah, people looking for books and wanting to be advised about them. And, oh, yeah, helping people with the digital books they want to borrow for their e-readers (though, contra the Official Narrative (TM), this is still just a trickle of the business).

  10. It’s very dangerous to use the Internet for reference. Sure, encyclopedias and other reference works have mistakes, but at least they are written by experts and carefully checked. Go onto the Internet and use google, and chances are you’ll be pointed to Wikipedia, “the encyclopedia anyone can edit”, or a site written by someone with no real qualifications.

  11. I Like Books says:

    One generally antigovernment friend of mine was arguing with an even more antigovernment friend about what place, if any, government regulations had. Referring to Lake Erie, the words “No, listen: the lake caught fire!” came up…

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