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tend to be financial or technical: even if we can afford to supply the public with books, the bound, paper version is out of date.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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for