The Great Biblioclasm of 2011: On the destruction of libraries

And so the Occupy Wall Street librarians have revealed the ruins of the People’s Library, destroyed following the eviction of Liberty Square on November 15. It’s a heartbreaking sight, evoking a visceral reaction – what sort of society does this to books?

The simple answer is that our society does this to books, the educated western democracies that have spent decades – centuries – trumpeting their moral, political, intellectual superiority over everyone else. And yet 2011 is turning into the year of the Great Biblioclasm, not necessarily literally (although it was in the case of the People’s Library) but in terms of access – why else do we so urgently need Voices For The Library?

I’ve written before on this subject, and I’m not sure I have anything new to add, except pessimism and a prediction that 2011 will come to be seen as a watershed year for libraries, for how we’re given access to information, and for the relationship between those who facilitate that access and those in political power. It feels paranoid to suggest we’re sleepwalking into a new dark age of knowledge, paranoid and over the top considering the myriad ways we can access information, but it doesn’t feel like I’m wrong.

Why do I say this? Because a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination shamelessly admits his campaign lied to the public; the internet remains a wild west of data sources, some with white hats than others; and in America, pizza is now classed as a vegetable. We’re not in a dark age, information isn’t absent and silent; rather its omnipresent and constantly demanding attention, a constant hiss of static. And while all this is going on, we’re disposing of the very things that make sense of that information, that increase the signal-to-noise ratio. Books, libraries, librarians… We sacrifice them because we see a world of knowledge before us and think we can make sense of it without their expertise, their skills, their mindset.

We can’t.

2 thoughts on “The Great Biblioclasm of 2011: On the destruction of libraries

  1. Howlin' Mad Heather

    It’s not just a job security issue for me (I work at a library) but a societal issue. The more we fall down the slopes toward functional illiteracy, the more the threat of a new Dark Age looms. I’m honestly scared at how little most people value the written word anymore. Terrific post.

    1. matthewhyde Post author

      Thanks; I think you’re right in that we run the risk of increasing illiteracy, in both language (this will sound snobbish, but what technology gives us in terms of access, it takes away in terms of text and Twitter-speak!) and information. Libraries, books, librarians… They’re *essential*…


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