Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2007 Issue

Libraries: Dinosaurs of the Modern Era


In the referendum libraries finished second

By Bruce McKinney

Libraries in America are a hot topic these days, deer in the headlights of both cost cutters and the next generation of technologists. They are easy prey. Twenty-seven years ago Ronald Reagan was elected President with a mandate to downsize government. He set in motion a process that continues today, the evisceration of services once taken for granted that are now endangered. Today he sleeps with the fish and hears not the wails.

In truth his is not the only name attached to this unfolding disaster. Politicians who knew or should have known better have for more than a generation opted to reduce Federal government in the name of personal empowerment. The message is easily transmitted. The electorate votes for tax cutters and against candidates who support tax increases. As a consequence national, state and local governments are now over-run with elected officials whose mandates are to dismantle American life. They succeed and institutions such as libraries fail. It turns out there is no free lunch.

What libraries provide are indirect benefits, kind of like directions to the baseball game: go one mile, turn left on Sanchez, right on Wallace at the second light. Look for the Carvel stand and turn left. The baseball field is at the end of the street. Most of what is worth doing takes time and concentration. It is not instant gratification. Rather, it requires time, experience and perspective. In other words, libraries teach patience.

Reading is an acquired skill, love of reading the lucky consequence of encountering great material when the mind is open to its possibilities: the alternative to symphonic reading Googling for answers. It saves time but loses the feeling. You can read the Gettysburg address on line. To understand Lincoln, the times, the circumstances and this speech's impact you need to read books. Google and all the other search engines combined are not enough.

So the recent decision in Jackson County, Oregon to close their libraries is disappointing at a distance and a catastrophe up close. For the county this is just reality playing out. For most of a hundred years the county received Federal timber subsidies. Recently Congress failed to reauthorize funds to prop up rural economies and responsibility then fell to local voters to approve a tax increase to keep libraries alive. By a vote of 58.3% to 41.7% the voters declined and so the libraries have closed. In doing so Jackson County becomes the nation's largest library closure. It won't be the last. We are emptying the nation's treasury and turning a caring nation into one that cares only for itself.

This is all part and parcel of the destruction and elimination of government services. We devalue teachers, defeat school budgets, stand by while strange local boards impose 16th century logic on 21st century students, close mental hospitals and build more prisons, fund weapons and wage war. We take more for ourselves and leave less for others.

We do not do these things because we close libraries. Rather we close libraries because we do these things. And we should stop.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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