For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
June 8, 2005 - Harmful Books
Sometimes librarians joke about the jargon we, like so many professions, fall into. We say, "Reader's Advisory," to describe the process through which we recommend books. But that phrase sounds like "weather advisory" -- a warning.
Well, this week, I'd like to offer some Reader's Advisory in both senses. Listed below are the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." I hasten to add that it wasn't me who came up with this. Rather, it was "Human Events: the National Conservative Weekly," published since 1944.
The publication asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help compile the list. So these are expert opinions. I've also given a partial summary of their reasons.
1. "The Communist Manifesto," by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848. "The Manifesto envisions history as a class struggle between oppressed workers and oppressive owners, calling for a workers' revolution so property, family and nation-states can be abolished and a proletarian Utopia established."
2. "Mein Kampf," by Adolf Hitler, 1925-26. "Here Hitler explained his racist, anti-Semitic vision for Germany, laying out a Nazi program pointing directly to World War II and the Holocaust."
3. "Quotations from Chairman Mao," by Mao Zedong, 1966. "It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism," wrote Mao.
4. "The Kinsey Report," by Alfred Kinsey, 1948. "The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy."
5. "Democracy and Education," by John Dewey, 1916. "...in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking 'skills' instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation."
6. "Das Kapital," by Karl Marx, 1867-1894. Marx described "capitalism as an ugly phase in the development of human society in which capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits."
7. "The Feminine Mystique," by Betty Friedan, 1963. Friedan "disparaged traditional stay-at-home motherhood as life in 'a comfortable concentration camp'--a role that degraded women and denied them true fulfillment in life."
8. "The Course of Positive Philosophy," by Auguste Comte, 1830-1842. Comte advanced the idea that "...the human mind had developed beyond 'theology' (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through 'metaphysics' (in this case defined as the French revolutionaries' reliance on abstract assertions of 'rights' without a God), to 'positivism' in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be."
9. "Beyond Good and Evil," by Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886. "Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one's own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation."
10. "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," by John Maynard Keynes, 1936. "The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government. When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity. FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt."
More information about Human Events can be found at www.humaneventsonline.com.
I regret to say that your library system owns only 8 of the 10 books above. We own neither "The Course of Positive Philosophy," nor "Quotations from Chairman Mao." We will, of course, seek to acquire them as quickly as possible.
I have found that it's a good idea to investigate, and draw your own conclusions, about lots of things experts tell you. That's especially so when they tell you that books are harmful.
I'd also be interested to know if there is any self-described "left wing" group with a list of its idea of dangerous books. I do strive to keep the collection balanced.