Terence Blacker: Dangerous weapons that are... books

Destroying a community's access to books is a blow against independence of thought

Share
Related Topics

Some words of qualified thanks are due to the New York Police Department. Its officers have just reminded the world that reading is a political matter. As part of its operation to clear the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the NYPD dismantled and comprehensively trashed the protesters' library of 5,554 books, chucking them in dumpster trucks and, when it started to rain, refusing to allow them to be covered by plastic bags. As the lorries departed with their shameful cargo, an unusual chant was heard from the crowd. It went: "Books! Books! Books!"

The heavy-handed cops may well have done more for the cause of libraries everywhere than any protest campaign. They have shown that the case against destroying a community's access to book s is not simply that it is cultural vandalism and a betrayal of future generations, but that it is a blow against independence of thought. Libraries are a communal source of intellectual freedom.

Who would have thought that in 2011 it would be necessary to point out that, in a divided, alienated society, where standards of literacy are scandalously low and escape from poverty and hopelessness is more difficult than ever, books are more than just another public service? Yet it has taken a long, dogged campaign by members of the public to get a High Court judge to declare this week that a decision by the councils of Gloucestershire and Somerset to withdraw funding from a significant number of their public libraries was unfair to the deprived, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The judge's message needs to be repeated wherever comfortable vested interests are in power. The Libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, was full of warm words and promises while in opposition but has been utterly indifferent in office, seemingly invisible whenever decisions are needed. Local councils have seen libraries as an easy option when it comes to cuts. Even privileged institutions have begun to behave as if printed books are some kind of old-fashioned luxury – to its shame, the public school Wellington College has been disposing of many of its books in favour of computers.

The excuses for this war on the printed book tend to be financial or technical: even if we can afford to supply the public with books, the bound, paper version is out of date. As the Occupy Wall Street library shows, intellectual freedom still depends on the portable, printed book. Even the idea of the internet itself was inspired by that great hippie volume The Whole Earth Catalogue.

Dissent has become trickier, the corporation – online, in national life, on the high street – is more powerful. Whether in a tent or a council building, libraries offer a vital alternative to the status quo. Perhaps that is why government, councils and the police are so oddly relaxed about their destruction.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker