Dustbin of Literary History

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Libraries in Fairfax County are consigning Charlotte Bronte, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust and Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the dustbin of literary history. At the bidding of a new cataloging program, the libraries are tossing books that haven't been checked out in more than two years to make room for in-demand books.

National Review's John Miller, writing in the Wall Street Journal, asks:

What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker is all the rage at this very moment?

If the answer is the latter, then why must we have government-run libraries at all? There's a fine line between an institution that aims to edify the public and one that merely uses tax dollars to subsidize the recreational habits of bookworms.

Miller suggests that libraries stop stocking according to what their "customers" want (John Grisham, etc.), since books are cheap and easy to get elsewhere in the era of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Instead, they "should seek to shore up the culture against the eroding force of trends."

NEXT: The Age of the Autocrat?

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  1. I agree with NR this time, but I’ll note that NR is the kind of magazine that would have called for the banning of many of the works of James Joyce, Heminway, Faulkner, etc…They fail to realize that you only get the ‘best’ of a culture when you allow folks to push the limits.

  2. Not every town library can keep expanding to make every book available (unlike Library of Congress). That said, they need to cull those books that haven’t stood the test of time and stock those that do. Go through any library’s
    shelves and you’ll see many outdated books.
    Whether government run or private (e.g. Christian Science Reading Room) someone has to set acquisition and de-acquisition policies.

  3. As a person who reads the classics, who prefers them over modern literature, this information saddens me. It also makes me realize that the dumbing down of America may be worse than I thought.

    I hope my local library doesn’t follow this trend.

  4. People who don’t buy their books shouldn’t be reading in the first place. (Okay, maybe there should be an exception for children.) As long as my tax dollars are being wasted on the public library anyway, I say get rid of all the books and stock up on popular DVDs and CDs. After all, there’s nothing wrong with the library being in competition with the local video rental stores, is there?

  5. If the answer is the latter, then why must we have government-run libraries at all?

    Exactly the point I used to make when I worked at the local public library in the 1980s and it started carrying the same VHS tapes available at half a dozen video stores. The only point of the tapes was to lure in cheapskates and inflate our patronage numbers.

  6. My friend was complaining the other day how there wasn’t any Hazlitt, Friedman, von Mises, or, Hayek in the entire Oakland library system.

    He was buying second-hand books through Amazon. I turned him on to half.com.

  7. Must be nice to be rich like Mr. Miller and be able to run out and buy the latest best seller in hardback. Wish I knew what that was like, but I’m a librarian with an unemployed husband and don’t have the money right now.

    This whole debate has been running around libarianship for the entire 30 years I’ve been in the profession–give them what they want verus give them uplifting materials. The uplifting materials side often has enough disposable income to pop into the Barnes and Noble and buy their own leisure reading, many of us don’t, despite the decline in the cost of books over the long haul.

    There needs to be a balance between keeping the classics and supplying what people are actually intested in reading. Taxpayers seem to be uninterested in paying for the endless expansion of public libraries to maintain the world’s knowledge, leading us to discard those manuals on how to use Windows 3.0 in favor of new models. And until they put a printing press in the basement of each library so we can have enough funding to house these increasing collections, that’s the way it’s going to be. The time when a library could represent human knowledge on its own is long past, we have to rely upon larger libraries to provide books that are not used as often.

  8. People who don’t buy their books shouldn’t be reading in the first place.

    is there nothing to be said for research?

  9. On a related matter, the local city and county governments are getting ready to sink a lot of money into moving the government-run library to a new building. The new building happens to be in a flood zone, but never mind that. Of course, what this town needs isn’t a new, larger library; it needs a decent bookstore. And by decent, I mean I’d settle for a lousy Books-A-Million, given that the bookshops we have now are strictly for people who think the “Left Behind” series is the pinnacle of literature.

  10. I had a buddy who wrote a freelance piece for some Philadelphia alt-weekly years ago on the libertarian justification for eliminating public libraries. That piece generated more hate mail than any other article in the history of the alt-weekly. I suspect we’d have an easier time abolishing public fire departments.

  11. How is it that no one has mentioned Project Gutenberg? Unless you have Allan Bloom’s tastes and an atavastic need to fondle paper, the classics are available via this new-fangled web stuff.

    Contrast that with the limited space in a physical library and whether the best use of that space is to hold books that collect dust or get read.

  12. This is actually an interesting debate topic, but let’s not pretend that there is some kind of equivalence between the works of Solzhenitsyn and a Windows 3.0 manual. Nobody is arguing that the latter should be kept, so bringing it up is just an intellectual dodge.

  13. Ken,

    “but I’ll note that NR is the kind of magazine that would have called for the banning of many of the works of James Joyce, Heminway, Faulkner, etc…”

    Really?? I highly doubt that.

    Cathy,

    I feel the same way about shoes, watches, skis and video game consoles. When someone suggests that we shouldn’t subsidize them, I say, must be nice to have money.

  14. Abdul,

    I’d like to read your friend’s piece. Saying that I shouldn’t be forced to finance other people’s entertainment hasn’t won me any friends either, even when I was talking about niche stuff like the city opera and ballet.

    Maybe Cathy will be able to convince me that I should be paying for her leisure reading, but I doubt it.

  15. Like any government agency, a public library is judged according to the number of constituents it serves. Libraries are stocking up on currently popular books for the same reason welfare agencies actively recruit new welfare recipients.

    That said, I don’t really have a problem with this. Shelf space is very limited, and storage (and preservation) is costly. IMO, it should be more the job of university libraries (and the Library of Congress) to be comprehensive repositories of printed matter, and public libraries should generally focus on the current desires of the public. There may be exceptions either way, of course.

    Finally, I agree that Project Gutenberg is a Good Thing. However, according to the project’s site, they now have about 20,000 titles available, which is not a whole lot in the big picture. Whether that 20,000 includes all of “the classics” is a matter of opinion.

  16. There can’t possibly be any legitimate method of ascertaining cultural value other than the success of an item in the marketplace.

    That’s how we know that “Frampton Comes Alive” was the best musical production of the 1970s.

    Whatever those elitist fans of the Clash might say. I mean, they didn’t sell nearly as much. They were, like, totally unpopular.

  17. Between the Gutenberg and Prometheus projects the classics are covered. They already have more titles that once person could read, and they’ll keep expanding with time. The librarian is still helpful, since many times people don’t know where to start. Library’s now offer internet connections so everyone can access information from the web. I would like to see this trend continue, with fewer shelves, more computer terminals, and discussion areas for small groups.

    Libraries provide an important service to the community. Still, they belong in the non-profit sector, not the government. Our local college allows people to sign up as “friends of the library”. This gives people access to the information even if they aren’t students.

  18. Burn, strawman, burn!

  19. I question how realistic it is to expect someone to read “The Gulag Archipeligo” by staring at a screen, unable to take breaks. Especially when you have to take the bus downtown every time you want to read a chapter.

    Not everyone has internet access at home, or a wireless so they can take a laptop into the can.

  20. Kolrahbi-yes, really. Conservatives love them some censprship. Here’s NR’s own resident shaman Goldberg extolling it. This stuff is regular fare on NRO and in conservative circles generally (notice the Kristol references).
    “Well, let me just say, even though I’m opposed to today’s campus censorship: I do like censorship.” J. Goldberg
    http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg051002.asp

  21. Sorry for the double post, but here are some more conservative icons on their love of censorship:
    “I’ll put it bluntly: if you care for the quality of life in our American democracy, then you have to be for censorship.” I. Kristol
    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~wbutler/kristol.html
    “Censorship as an enhancement of our liberty may seem paradoxical. Yet it should be obvious, to all but the most dogmatic First Amendment absolutists, that people forced to live in an increasingly brutalized culture are, in a very real sense, not wholly free.” Robert Bork
    “”It’s encouraging to learn that I’m not the only conservative in favor of censorship judiciously applied.” Don Feder
    I’ve read conservatives for years and while they howl like wolves when liberals ‘censor’ something they say, for instance in academe, they are in general favor of many forms of censorship. Fostering virtue and all that balderdash…

  22. The Post article was a bit overstated. Real surprise there! You can get many of the classics in all kinds of media.

  23. i am the worst libertarian ever, cause i really dig public libraries. without them, i wouldn’t be nearly as smartened as i are.

    paper > screens when it comes to reading.

    and i’ll take tago mago over any clash production any day of the week (and twice on sundays). or better yet, amon duul II! WOOOO.

  24. I question how realistic it is to expect someone to read “The Gulag Archipeligo” by staring at a screen, unable to take breaks.

    joe, that conjures an image of punishment more severe than the gulag itself. Absent the guy holding the gun to your head as you stare at the screen of course.

  25. public libraries are one of the only government functions that i know of which, to my knowledge, has not generated any significant unintended negative consequences.

    if you’re a kid with a desire to read and poor/cheap/whatever parents – the free lending library is a great thing.

    i’m not against private libraries by any means and i don’t think they necessarily need to be public to have the same positive effects – it’s the free part that is really great!

  26. If the answer is the latter, then why must we have government-run libraries at all?

    Indeed. Let’s hear it for the Free Market: Here is a list of classics, including Proust, one of the Brontes, Hardy and many others, all for tempting price of $5-$10:

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/classics/classics-archive.asp?z=y

    Bookstores ARE the modern library. They offer more variety, larger quantities, better availability than any public library that I know of, barring the Library of Congress. And if you recycle the books through used book stores, you can save quite a bit.

  27. What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker is all the rage at this very moment?

    I’d say they need a balance. A library which simply stores (somebody’s idea of) “the best that has been thought and said” won’t attract patrons. It’s the public equivalent of setting up a personal library by ordering so many yards of books to gather dust.

    There’s something to be said for luring someone with books serving the current fickle taste then, once they’re hooked, introducing the classics.

    In the above example two years may be a tad short, but there’s nothing magical about a book that never gets read.

  28. Sounds like another cultural gatekeeper crying over the loss of his keys to me

  29. “Must be nice to be rich like Mr. Miller and be able to run out and buy the latest best seller in hardback.”

    So then you’re arguing that libraries are simply another form of welfare then?

    I mean that’s fine if that’s the argument, but I want to make sure that’s what you’re saying.

    I actually _like_ the idea of a public library as a form of welfare for the poor. Having been poor it has indeed been a vital resource for me to have things I otherwise couldn’t afford (internet access, books, etc.). It also, unlike other forms of welfare, is available to the whole populace regardless of need, making it a somewhat more palatable form of government spending.

    However that’s generally a tough sale to most of the public, and there are admittedly good reasons for it.

  30. During my 20-year+ career as a bookseller, I often ran into folks in the library business who expected me to be a big supporter of theirs. I would point out to them that a.) they were rarely our customers, buying their books from the same publishers and wholesalers that we did, and that b.) they were actually our competitors, giving the public “for free” what we charged for. I used to joke that while bookstores were whores, libraries were mere sluts, and were taking bread out of our mouths. This comment was, as you might expect, often met with stunned incomprehension, as those on the library side were sometimes almost entirely free of private sector experience.

    I can’t see how a local video store or CD shop wouldn’t consider the local library as unfair competition. I’ve complained about the goverment-library racket here before:

    1.) Andrew Carnegie made a huge mistake when he designated government bodies as recipients for his library-supporting largess. He should have demanded that the libraries be established as independent educational institutions, free from government influence. …….

    3.) My local libraries have free internet access and DVDs, VHS tapes and CDs to loan. Why they are in competition with local video stores I’ll never know, but they are.

    Perhaps government libraries should skew their holdings of audio and video to educational materials, and leave the pure entertainment to the commercial outfits. Back when books were more expensive and harder to get, merchants would start book lending operations, often as part of a bookstore, to supply the public with new fiction. That’s because the libraries refused to buy books like that, preferring to spend their budgets on the classics. Nothing as ungenteel as Hemingway would have found its way into our local library in the 1920s, which allowed our city’s largest independent bookseller to be born, as a 10-book lending library in the corner of a beauty salon. Nowadays, the bookstore doesn’t rent books, but the library does. The most popular “trash fiction” goes for $1 a week.

    As for obsolete technical materials like a Windows 3.0 manual, that’s exactly the sort of thing a library ought to preserve. Perhaps it might make more sense to scan it and save it as a .pdf file, if the copyright holder allows it, or if it is in public domain, but if there is any justification for libraries that are tax-funded – and no, I don’t think there is – it would be as a preserve for useful knowledge that the market doesn’t support.

    My preference for privatizing public libraries doesn’t mean that I don’t use them. After all, I pay for them through my taxes. I will admit that I pretty much stayed out of them for years, as I had lending rights at the bookstores I worked at, along with an employee discount and freebies from the publishers. But when I got out of that racket I took out a card again. I used the computers there very frequently when the hard drive on my home machine died and I was too broke to get it replaced immediately. People aren’t reading out-of-collection tomes on library computers. They are reading web pages, reading and writing web-based e-mail, participating in fora, chatrooms and USENET, watching You-tube, playing games – fantasy football, chess, poker – and looking for pictures of cute humans. (The library should seriously invest in some privacy shields.) Those library workstations are also beloved of job seekers and ebayers. Free access to the internet and MS WORD are a good answer to those complaining about a “digital divide.” Using a library machine, somebody could get his resume out, get hired, and eventually buy his own computer. Some computerless folk used them to learn how to use a computer, and to shop for one.

    Libraries have many purposes other than lending the classics and useful nonfiction, whether they are run privately or by the government. In the town I grew up in, our public library was the mid-point of my walk home from parochial school, and I haunted the place. I come from a large family, and we weren’t rich, so our house would sometimes contain dozens of books borrowed by the various siblings and my parents. These days I find myself standing in line behind patrons checking out huge stacks of DVDs, such that I can’t believe that there’s time enough in a week to watch them all. It’s hard not to think that some devolution has taken place.

    Kevin

  31. These days I find myself standing in line behind patrons checking out huge stacks of DVDs, such that I can’t believe that there’s time enough in a week to watch them all.

    To watch them, probably not. To rip them, transcode them, and save the copies off to archival media, a week is plenty.

  32. Ken:

    You’ve shown that some of the NR crowd are in favor of censorship. What you haven’t shown is that they are, or ever were, in favor of “the banning of many of the works of James Joyce, Heminway, Faulkner, etc.,” rather than of something more along the lines of “The Story of O.” Considering that one of their regular contributors in the early days was Joyce scholar Hugh Kenner, I doubt you’d be able to. (And arguing that once you ban “The Story of O” it’s a short jump to banning “Ulysses” is just weaseling, so don’t try it.)

    (BTW, I can’t claim that NR ever published anything by Hemmingway, Faulkner, or Joyce, but they did publish at least one piece by John Dos Passos.)

  33. Well, that’s the thing, Lazlo. I don’t see why I, as a taxpayer, should be subsidizing someone’s copyright-infringement habit. Of course, some of those DVDs and CDs may be public domain, in which case the library as a distribution-point makes some sort of sense. I wonder if the MPAA has ever thought of going after libraries as enablers of piracy?

    When I was a kid our local library had LPs to lend, but they were often full of skips and pops, especially the most popular titles. You’d be wasting your money if you recorded them to cassette. The collection steered clear of rock and pop, and towards serious orchestral works, opera, folk music and classic jazz. Just as the library wasn’t the place to find Harlequin Romances or Mack Bolan novels, it was expected that you’d look elsewhere for the Beatles and the Archies.

    Kevin

  34. joe
    I question how realistic it is to expect someone to read “The Gulag Archipeligo” by staring at a screen, unable to take breaks. Especially when you have to take the bus downtown every time you want to read a chapter.

    Not everyone has internet access at home, or a wireless so they can take a laptop into the can.

    Two hundred bucks will buy you a ‘palmtop’ (three hundred with wireless). Download a book, disconnect and read at your leisure. I haven’t read three hundred pages on paper in the last year and I’m a voracious reader. (Just don’t drop the thing in the water – but you knew that)

  35. Regarding the classics and online editions like Gutenberg. Here’s an obvious and important but overlooked point: recent scholarly translations are not in the public domain.

    So if you want to read Plato, get ready for an old and inferior translation. I don’t know about the quality of the available translations of, say, Goethe and Tolstoy and Dante and Cervantes and Moliere and Homer and Cicero and Kierkegaard and Ibsen (to pick examples of different languages), but I’m not hopeful.

  36. Maybe that Proust bitch shoulda just shutup and written more like Nelson DeMille.

  37. Seamus
    Perhaps you remember that many conservatives went nuts to ban Joyce the first time he came out with Ulysses. Of course conservatives in 1950 or now will say: hey, we would never have been against what THOSE guys were against, Joyce after all is OK, we just can’t take Henry Miller (or Charles Bukowski, or whoever is pushing the envelope now). Just like conservatives now say “we are fine with contraception for adults, but we don’t think contraception or abortions for youth are ok.” Of course their counterparts 30 years before that said “of course we are for contraception fo married couples, but not for unmarried adults” and then THEIR counterparts 20 years before said “well of course we are for natural contraception for married couples, but other contraception is just wrong.” SO after liberals and libertarians fight conservatives for a few decades and the culture turns their way then conservatives give up and move to a different envelope. NR was not around when Ulysses hit the shelves but if it were you can bet they would have joined the bandwagon claiming its ‘prurient’ effects should be fought by ‘judicous’ censorship.
    They published Dos Passos because late in his life he turned into a fairly radical anti-Communist. However, they supported blacklists and McCarthy for folks like Passos when he was writing stuff like Manhattan Transfer.

  38. Irrelevant side note 1: Going to my local library nowadays is depressing, as it reminds me of when I was poor for several years and it was often my only source of free/cheap entertainment. I valued it at the time, but can barely stand to go there any more.

    Irrelevant side note 2: They had LPs of both Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys and Herb Alpert’s ‘Whipped Cream,’ to their credit.

  39. Perhaps you remember that many conservatives went nuts to ban Joyce the first time he came out with Ulysses.

    You didn’t say “conservatives”; you said “NR.” Nice wiggle, though. (In any event, I don’t remember that conservatives were particularly behind the effort to ban “Ulysses,” unless by “conservatives” you mean “people in or influential on government.” I particularly don’t recall such noted conservatives as Andrew Mellon or Calvin Coolidge beating the “ban Ulysses” drum any louder than their counterparts in the Democratic party. I particularly recall that one literary conservative, T.S. Eliot, opined that censorship, while defensible in principle, tended to end up with such bad outcomes as banning “Ulysses.”)

    However, they supported blacklists and McCarthy for folks like Passos when he was writing stuff like Manhattan Transfer.

    If you can show me any evidence that anyone who was on the masthead of NR during the 50s ever called for censorship of Dos Passos at any time, I’ll eat my words. (“Blacklists” don’t count as censorship, by the way; they are merely a form of private boycott. I have no idea what “McCarthy” is supposed to mean in this context. I don’t recall that McCarthy was famous for calling for censorship, either. Keeping Communists and fellow travelers off the government payroll, yes; keeping certain books out of USIA libraries, yes; but banning the production, sale, or distribution of books, not that I ever heard of.)

    Oh, yeah, and IIRC, the Dos Passos NR article that got published in NR had little or nothing to do with “radical anti-Communis[m],” but was a celebration of the Apollo 11 flight.

  40. public libraries are one of the only government functions that i know of which, to my knowledge, has not generated any significant unintended negative consequences.

    Becoming shelters for the homeless, internet porn seekers, and rowdy teens?

  41. Seamus
    What I said in my first post was this “NR is the kind of magazine that would have called for the banning of many of the works of James Joyce, Heminway, Faulkner, etc…They fail to realize that you only get the ‘best’ of a culture when you allow folks to push the limits.” As I explained in my second post NR, like most conservatives, will usually accept once controversial but now well accepted positions and works, though their conservative counterparts (and inspirations) at the time actually fought on the other side of these now accepted works and positions. The current NR people proclaim their dedication to censoring dangerous and prurient works (as shown in my third post), as did their ideological forefathers. In their forefathers day Heminway, Steinbeck, Flaubert, Joyce et al made conservatives furious and were considered ‘dangerous and prurient’ and banned under Comstock laws, and they were defended by liberals of the day (the ACLU brought the suit that legalized Ulysses in 1921, Comstock’s laws were passed by a Republican majority). You are right that many Democrats of that time supported Comstock; these were the followers of Bryan who now support, and in return recieve much defense from, conservative organizations (National Review being one). NR was not around when most of the authors I mentioned were publishing what conservatives of their day thought were dangerous works, so of course they have no position on those specific works. But they have rather consistently sang the praises of ‘judicious censorship.’ Today they aim at Ward Churchill or Charles Bukowski, but yesterday it was James Joyce (Ulysses is, after all, a pretty raunchy book in parts).
    On McCarthy we actually are in a better position, because part of what made old William F Jr so vocal was his slavish defense of Tailgunner Joe (after McCarthy became unpalatable to most everyone, AFTER I say, WFB then started to criticize, this as I stress is the conservative pattern). McCarthy’s tactics were a bit more than a ‘form of a private boycott.’ He used his position on the HUAC comittees and its powers to investigate and compel folks to reveal publicly information about friends, but more importantly to bully executives in Hollywood and the arts. The execs certainly felt that if they did not play ball with HUAC things could be worse for them than simply the bad press McCarthy was engineering with taxpayer dollars and soveriegn power. Conservatives, like WFB, loved it. Communists were ‘dangerous’ and so any artistic medium that had a Communist involved was to be banned, one way or another. Comstock had the same ideas (and influenced another NR darling, protege J. Edgar Hoover btw) as he went after such ‘dangerous’ speech as sex education, anarchists tracts and many early realist writers. As I said, conservatives love them some censorship, so to hear them decry it at NR is always funny.

  42. the libraries are tossing books that haven’t been checked out in more than two years to make room for in-demand books.

    Only a bureaucrat.

    It’s possible that a patron or two may have taken the book off the shelf, sat quietly in a chair and read the book, and then put it back where they found it.

  43. but I’ll note that NR is the kind of magazine that would have called for the banning of many of the works of James Joyce, Heminway, Faulkner, etc

    Perhaps you’ve got a list of all the books that NR has advocated banning. Thanks.

  44. Wine C-
    NR has come out repeatedly for the “community standards” test for banning materials thought to be ‘obscene.’ (You can either take my word for or it or google William Buckley, Jay Nordlinger, etc. + censorship). So any book that you could get any community jury to declare obscene would be on the list. Joyce, Cabell, Lawrence: all their works were victims of legal banning by community standards of their time…Thank god the ACLU and other liberal/libertarian groups got some non-National Review following judges to eventually throw these censor attempts out…

  45. You are right that many Democrats of that time supported Comstock; these were the followers of Bryan who now support, and in return recieve much defense from, conservative organizations (National Review being one).

    Anyone who argues with a straight fact that Bryan was a conservative is just clearly just making it up as he goes along. Maybe he’d be considered conservative if he magically appeared today, but that only shows how far the dividing line has moved; in his own day he wasn’t considered any kind of conservative. Maybe you were thinking of Grover Cleveland.

    McCarthy’s tactics were a bit more than a ‘form of a private boycott.’ He used his position on the HUAC comittees and its powers to investigate and compel folks to reveal publicly information about friends, but more importantly to bully executives in Hollywood and the arts.

    Talk about making it up. McCarthy had *no* “position on the HUAC committees.” McCarthy was the chairman of the *Senate* Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (of the Committee on Government Operations), and never served in the House of Representatives. HUAC, which did all that bullying of Hollywood, was the *House* Committee on Un-American Activities. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_mccarthy#HUAC)

  46. I think it’s easy to argue that Bryans constituents are the forefathers of today’s Red State conservatives. His brand of fundamentalism is today’s religious right. There is a fairly unbroken chain that the fundamentalist movement, which Bryan once led, is the Religious Right which now votes Republican and reads National Review (and is regularly defended in its pages). For a good review of this history see James Hunter’s Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation.
    You got me on conflating HUAC with McCarthy, but I think my point still stands. He did not use the power of a House Committee, but instead a Senate one, to engage in the usual conservative censorship. Since you find Wikipedia to be a citable source here is an excerpt from Taligunner Joe’s entry:
    “The subcommittee first investigated allegations of Communist influence in the Voice of America (VOA), at that time a part of the State Department’s International Information Agency. Many VOA personnel were questioned in front of television cameras and a packed press gallery, with McCarthy lacing his questions with innuendo and false accusations.[33] A few VOA employees alleged Communist influence on the content of broadcasts, but none of the charges were substantiated. Morale at VOA was badly damaged, with one of its engineers even committing suicide. Ed Kretzman, a policy advisor for the service, would later comment that it was VOA’s “darkest hour when Senator McCarthy and his chief hatchet man, Roy Cohn, almost succeeded in muffling it.”[34]

    The subcommittee then turned to the overseas library program of the International Information Agency. Cohn toured Europe examining the card catalogs of the State Department libraries looking for works by authors he deemed inappropriate. McCarthy then recited the list of supposedly pro-communist authors before his subcommittee and the press. The State Department bowed to McCarthy and ordered its overseas librarians to remove from their shelves “material by any controversial persons, Communists, fellow travelers, etc.” Some libraries actually burned the newly-forbidden books.[35] Shortly after this, in one of his carefully oblique public criticisms of McCarthy, President Eisenhower urged Americans: “Don’t join the book burners. [?] Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”[36]

    But let’s see you play a little defense as well. It’s pretty clear that NR writers support the community standards test to prosecute ‘obscenity.’ Do you have some kind of doubt that when Ulyssess, Fanny Hill, Tropic of Cancer, etc., were banned that they were so because they had failed some communities standard? Do you think that a community should define for individuals in its legal jurisdiction what can be read?
    http://www.nationalreview.com/19nov01/buckley111901.shtml

  47. I think it’s easy to argue that Bryans constituents are the forefathers of today’s Red State conservatives.

    Sure, it’s easy to argue it, but not in such a way as to prove that Bryan was himself a conservative. To argue that, you have to focus on the religious angle, to the exclusion of the economic ones that were many times more important to the people of the time. In his own era, Bryan was far from a conservative. That title more properly belongs to people like Grover Cleveland (on the Democratic side) or William McKinley and William Howard Taft (on the Republican side), none of whom is famous for comstockery.

    As for what you now claim about McCarthy, it sounds like you are simply corroborating what I initially said about him: “I don’t recall that McCarthy was famous for calling for censorship, either. Keeping Communists and fellow travelers off the government payroll, yes; keeping certain books out of USIA libraries, yes; but banning the production, sale, or distribution of books, not that I ever heard of.”

    And as for the “community standards” argument: nice sleight of hand. You can’t show that any NR authors actually want to ban Hemmingway, Faulkner, or Joyce, so you fall back on arguing that they endorsed a policy that would have *led* to the banning of Hemmingway, Joyce, etc. That’s a pretty attenuated version of your original, overblown claims.

    (And I still haven’t heard any answer to the pro-Ulysses views of T.S. Eliot, a clearly conservative contemporary of Joyce’s.)

  48. Seamus
    Maybe we are talking past each other. National Review is a conservative magazine that is particularly informed by conservative religiosity. This may be because of their need to be close to the GOP and the GOP’s need to be close to the religious right. Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner and other ‘conservatives’ would have been appalled by censorship. But they would be libertarians today. The forces of conservative religion have throughout history been the forces of censorship. NR now is closely aligned with those forces.
    I don’t think there is any sleight of hand to this argument. I argued that NR WOULD be the kind of magazine to have been calling for censorship of Joyce et al. The religious right of Joyce’s day called for his censoring and I think if he were not an accepted part of the canon today the religious right of today would go after him now (and that includes NR). The community standards support cements this. I’ll put it in a very simple form for you:
    I. Joyceet al’s censorship was justified by the community standards of their day.
    2. NR thinks community standards justify censorship today.
    3. NR would be for censoring Joyce et al. if they were around back then.
    Lastly there is Elliot (cute that you say you “still haven’t heard” in relation to this when you failed to address any of my questions to you). This is easy: unlike NR writers today Elliot was not intellectually beholden to the religious right of his day. I imagine he would have seen Comstock’s following much like Mencken did…He was pretty far from the religious right of his day…

  49. All you freeloaders watch out when you stop at the library to log on to the interweb. Big Librarian may be watching you.

    Librarians help police book ’em.
    They alert officers when Internet fraud suspect shows up to use computers

    By DAVID DOEGE

    Posted: Jan. 7, 2007

    The investigation of a Brookfield man on charges that he used the Internet to sell counterfeit clothing and defraud customers throughout the country received help from an unlikely source: librarians. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    How does this jibe with librarians’ refusal to cooperate with the Feds under the PATRIOT Act?

    Kevin

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