The Guardian’s write-up today on Neil Gaiman’s referring to Libraries as ‘seed corn’ reminded me of my own experiences with the public library. My parents cared deeply that I learned and put far more attention into my education than 99% of the population. But for this “1% Child”, there were challenges to getting scientifically sound information.
You see, my parents actively censored my reading. Rather than teaching me how to discern right from wrong, they just made me read scriptures daily and took the philosophy that I would magically know what was “wrong” because it would be so foreign and wouldn’t fit the pattern of all the “right” stuff that I had been taught. Of course, the Bible literally teaches that if God is telling you to sacrifice your child and slice them open on an altar, you must obey God, not get checked out for schizophrenia. So, evolution? “Man is not an animal! Human sexuality? “Your bodies are shameful!” Women’s rights? “Let’s go protest the baby killers!” I guess they weren’t much for subtlety.
Fast-forward to 2014 and we’ve got all the information we want but the question of how to evaluate what’s “right” and “wrong” still stands. Despite the ubiquity of information, we’ve seen an astounding rise in fundamentalists practicing hatred. The tools that were supposed to give us insight into truth are used to spread propaganda and limit your access to opinions to those that you already agree with. When Google tailors your search results, this happens subtly. When governments pollute the Tor network to eradicate dissidents, the subversion is overt.
For me, the library was a rare place where I could be left alone to read everything. I could consult with curators and find new sources of opinion. I could safely practice learning discernment. It’s a rare environment where people can come together and discuss why communities feel the way they do about complex issues while simultaneously providing access to counter-points.
If you’ve been questioning the value of libraries in our connected world, consider that learning without the community is impotent. Just as a society whose beliefs are unchallenged is deluded.