Does anyone ever get the feeling that we should be having some of our discussions about the mission of libraries in super secret whispered conversations?
I’m starting to feel like there’s a real disconnect between what we believe and the values we’re charged to uphold, and the face we have to present to the public. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and in tonight’s “lecture” when Eli Neiburger noted that “if libraries didn’t exist we wouldn’t be allowed to create them” it really hit home for me. What that says to me is that our nation has radically shifted from the values that compelled us to create libraries in the first place, and that if the public grasped the full implications of the interaction between “free access to information” and “the free market” we’d all be shouted down as socialists, at best. (Not implying a value judgment on socialism, just pointing out that given the state of national conversation, “socialist” is about the nicest thing a person can expect to be called).
But at the heart of our mission is the belief that access to information shouldn’t have anything to do with economic standing, that in fact it is critical to democracy that this be the case. I cannot claim to understand anything involving economics or law, but more and more lately I’m sensing an essential conflict between democracy and capitalism, and it irritates me that the two seem so wound around each other in public discourse. I feel like so much of our discussion leads back to the fact that the capitalist model is just not adequate when the commodity we’re talking about is information.
So my fear is that we’re currently moving to a more and more restrictive and proprietary model, which will eventually choke off free discourse even further. Librarians are in a position to resist that, but I worry that in doing so we’ll open ourselves up to scrutiny from people who will argue that we’re hurting the free market (ignoring the marketplace of ideas btw). How can we maintain our All-American apple pie image while driving radical change in how information is distributed?