Brief note on libraries and elitism
The 1980s began the “give ’em what they want” era of library collection development, when it became irredeemably elitist for librarians to think they occupy some kind of teaching role as selectors and reference librarians for their communities.
In 2010, the war of the populist cultural conservatives against the latté sipping liberal elitists is wearing itself out as Palin and the tea partiers gradually grow too ridiculous to take seriously. (Those on the left who call anyone sexist who calls Palin stupid are only making things worse.) At least that is the hope of this latté sipping librarian whose strategy is to ride it out.
The questions I have are a rhetorical one followed by a philosophical one, going to our idea of our role in society as librarians. First, if one in five Americans believes that Obama is a Muslim, are we obliged to stock one book that claims he is a Muslim for every four that say he is a Christian? Or, to bring geography into the mix, swing the proportion higher or lower according to the community in which we work? Obviously not, but then the real question: On what basis do we claim to know more than our communities? I am looking for a positive answer, along the lines that we are professionals, trained to make selection decisions about books and other resources, that we are in a position of authority regarding what public libraries should contain. If you’re not willing to stand up and make that claim for the profession (at the risk of being called elitist by a political leader and Presidential hopeful who thinks “Americans should refudiate the ground zero mosque”) then what good are we?