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Pull the other one, Pullman


 

Anyone who has read an interview with children’s author/grumpy village atheist Philip Pullman will surely have sensed that he was a bit of an a-hole. He proved the hypothesis, with the cataclysmic decisiveness of a Shaq slam-dunk, in a January 20 address concerning austerity-driven public-library closures in the UK. It is the speech of someone who believes every jot and tittle ever put to paper about his infallible genius; since the chief evidence of this genius is the success of his books in a degraded, semiliterate global publishing marketplace, Pullman naturally spends a lot of time blaming his nation’s library crisis on (a) modern publishing and (b) the market economy. Given such confusion, or perversity, it comes as no surprise that the supreme hero of his plea for untrammelled intellectual freedom turns out to be Karl Marx, who foresaw our sorry state oh so long ago.

Has Pullman no shame? No writer who had a trace of vulnerability to it would play the tattered, grimy “It’s like the Christians burning the Library of Alexandria all over again!” card less than a minute into a speech about libraries. That event was perhaps the single worst setback for the intellectual advancement of Western man; this would suggest to most sober people, people with some sense of perspective, that references to it should probably be guarded by a sort of Godwin’s Law. That, in other words, it should be used as a metaphor only under grave circumstances.

So what are the circumstances particular to this case? “Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries,” says Pullman, expecting us to recoil in anguish. The county of Oxfordshire, Canadian readers should note, has roughly the same population and geographic size as the city of Hamilton, Ontario. [NOTE: Commenter Mackie caught me in a metric-Imperial error here, for which much thanks; Oxfordshire is about twice the size of metro Hamilton geographically.] Residents in Hamilton will be delighted to note that Hamilton is served by 24 public library branches, which should make that city a slightly less sandblasted hell of ignorance than Oxfordshire is about to become (since we’re not counting Oxford University’s Bodleian Library—it’s the supreme example of its kind, and open to private scholars for reference purposes, but they don’t have story time for tots there). 24 isn’t a small number by Canadian standards, incidentally; Winnipeg’s library has just 20 branches, Calgary’s and Edmonton’s 17 each. Little did we all know we were so culturally deprived.

I grew up depending on public libraries for my first exposures to culture and history, and my family has worked in them for three decades. Probably the only significant amount of volunteer work I’ve ever done in my selfish, lazy life was in the public library in my hometown. This entitles me to dismiss, without any fear of reasonable contradiction, Pullman’s claim that small countryside lending libraries cannot be managed by volunteers. It is simply a lie—one delivered with a maximum of sneering contempt. “What patronizing nonsense,” he says as he delivers one of the most patronizing orations of all time.

It’s true that you can’t use volunteers to manage a large library that serves the diversifying media needs of every imaginable customer in the year 2011, but not every cluster of shacks on some windblown sheepfold can expect to have a library like that, and to lack one is not a misfortune if your foremost concern is with reading—with the precious private “space that opens up between the reader and the book”, to use Pullman’s own words. What’s needed by the reader, as such, is a lot of books, selected and organized with a modicum of intelligence, and the free run of them. Everything else is detail.

I share Pullman’s biliousness at seeing public libraries fall victim to an economic crisis caused by financiers, demented property-flippers, and short-sighted Labour governments. But then, he doesn’t have much to say about Labour. That would be class treason, one supposes. And, anyway, he is much too busy poking fun at Tory cabinet fatty Eric Pickles—while simultaneously complaining about the injustice of ad-hominem attacks.

Whenever the “how dare you tamper with my favourite public service” argument is made, and no less when it is made on behalf of what may actually be my own favourite public service, I always wonder what actually existing utopia the arguer would like us to imitate. What country has the perfect, pristine, progressive library policy, and what makes it so? Pullman not only fails to identify any candidate; he is apparently furious at the idea that some particular policy about libraries, set by those responsible for their funding, should exist at all. “The leader of the county council said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead,” said Pullman. “…I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.” How readily, in the hands of an experienced prose artist, is irresponsibility magnified into an ideology.

One cannot escape the suspicion that Pullman believes libraries somehow grow out of soil festooned with magic library-beans. Doesn’t he know that the crucial figure in the history of public libraries was Andrew Carnegie—perhaps the most satanically successful apostle of the free market that ever lived? Carnegie’s fortune was used, for most of 50 years, to build a magnificently appointed public library for almost any community in the English-speaking world that wanted one. Six hundred and sixty of them were erected in the UK alone. Libraries as we know and use them are, essentially, Carnegie’s creation—a by-product, every bit as much as the plume of a smokestack, of the highest of high capitalism. Pullman should probably just die from embarrassment at having abused industrialists and classical liberals in such a context.

Pullman might, for the sake of argument, be right to argue that we have let the riotous, gore-jowled beast of the market into every cranny of human life, and that we have much to regret in this. But, again, what is the alternative? Socialist states, as much as flint-hearted capitalistic ones, need to make their inflow match their outgo in the long run. They cannot provide every thing that humans might regard as worthy or beautiful. To say so might seem like belabouring the obvious, but, remember, Pullman splutters with rage at the very mention of scarcity and is doubly angry that the wicked Tories have, in a difficult time, left choices about resource allocation up to local councils.

I don’t think Pullman favours some economy in which money was outlawed altogether, however that might be accomplished, but he is obviously eager to rewind the clock quite far. He gripes about “the transformation of human craftsmanship into mechanical mass production”. You’ll notice that this is a tidy, accurate description of the Gutenbergian technology that made Philip Pullman CBE a rich man. He is certainly rich enough to imitate Carnegie on the miniature scale of Oxfordshire—were he passionate about libraries as actually existing entities, rather than as deflowered symbols of right-wing ravenousness.


 

Pull the other one, Pullman

  1. I'm not sure what the pupose of this column is.

    It is one thing to dislike Pullman personally, although I suspect the fact that he is an atheist and former Lib/Dem member has a lot to do with it….but libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity.

    They have often been attacked, damaged and burned to the ground over the centuries by invading armies, religious fanatics, and ideological purists. It is one sure way of wiping out a people's culture.

    Libraries are often hated because they definitely ARE a public good….and while we can do without a lot of things during tough times, libraries aren't one of them.

    Knowledge is, in fact, the one sure way to get out of tough times…so I sincerely hope you're not behind any movement to shut them down.

  2. I'm not sure what the pupose of this column is.

    It is one thing to dislike Pullman personally, although I suspect the fact that he is an atheist and former Lib/Dem member has a lot to do with it….but libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity.

    They have often been attacked, damaged and burned to the ground over the centuries by invading armies, religious fanatics, and ideological purists. It is one sure way of wiping out a people's culture.

    Libraries are often hated because they definitely ARE a public good….and while we can do without a lot of things during tough times, libraries aren't one of them.

    Knowledge is, in fact, the one sure way to get out of tough times…so I sincerely hope you're not behind any movement to shut them down.

    • Oh man, I just can't let this go: libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity? Just how, exactly, are you defining humanity?

      Genus Homo: ~2.5 million years ago
      Anatomically modern Homo sapiens? ~ 200,000 years ago
      Behaviourally modern Homo sapiens? ~100,000-50,000 years ago
      First Library? ~ 4th millennium BC or so — and they sure as hell were not public lending institutions.

      And wiping out culture? For goodness sakes, most cultures that have ever existed didn't even have written language!

      Are you honestly suggesting that the closing of Oxfordshire libraries is going to threaten British Culture?

        • Sorry, were those links supposed to answer my question?

          How, exactly, can you justify the statement that "libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity", unless you eliminate most of human existence from the category of "humanity"?

          And how does the fact that libraries have been destroyed support your assertion that "it is one sure way of wiping out a people's culture", unless you eliminate most of humanity from ever having "culture".

          Brutal argument.

          • I see you never checked them out.

            Your loss. Remain in ignorance.

          • Huh?

            Your first link describes what a public library is, and suggests nothing older than ~1900 BC. So are you saying that 1900 BC is the date of the "earliest days of humanity"? If so, it's totally absurd.

            Your second link is to a book that makes the argument that oppressors often destroy libraries in order to "erase culture", etc. Alas, while oppressors have certainly done such — and probably even for those purposes — they have not been very successful. I've read the book. It doesn't provide a single case study to support the claim that destroying the library actually destroyed the culture.

            And to apply that kind of wanton destruction to the closing of libraries in Oxfordshire is totally absurd.

          • Are you really going to quibble about the word 'humanity' vs the word 'civilization'? I rather thought the two went together.

            But If so, I invite you to go on a dig to see how much further back we can establish libraries. Obviously they were a big thing already in 2000 BCE

            And I'm sure you haven't read the book, or you'd know better.

            I'm not talking about a library in Oxfordshire….I'm talking about Libraries…one leads to the other. As I say later in this thread, it's a slippery slope.

          • You really think it is a quibble?

            Humanity and "civilization" go together? Gosh, I'm sure glad I'm not an Inuit, or a Yanomamo, or 99.9% of the humans who ever lived on the planet who didn't use agriculture or written language. Would you believe *gasp* that there are even cultures today who don't have libraries. And some of them even think of themselves civilized humans. Alas, it appears you do not think of them as such. However, let's be frank, if all it takes to ruin a culture is to eliminate their library, I think I'll cast my lot with those illiterate societies who codify their culture in more robust symbolic structures than written text.

            And I'm still confused about what you think a 2000 BC library was. Big things? Do you really think the Summerians were issuing public library cards? The things were government archives, that had restricted access.

            The concept of a public library (as pointed out in your ever so helpful wikipedia link) didn't exist until at least the 5th century BC.. And even then they were only for the highly educated elite who could, you know, read.

            The fact is, truly public lending libraries are an entirely modern invention, and hardly can be considered one of the hallmarks of the obnoxiously phrased "earliest humanity" or even the equally obnoxiously phrased "earliest civilization".

          • I think you just like to argue. LOL

            The fact is, we need them. Get over it.

          • Hey, I'm all for libraries.

            But if the argument for keeping libraries is simply that "libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity" you can count me out.

            It's not only a totally absurd statement, but since you don't like slippery slope arguments, it also means we should continue to support institutionalized slavery, which appeared around the same time as writing.

          • Like I said, you just like to argue.

            There was never any statement about how we should keep them solely because we've always had them. The statement was that even in our earliest beginnings we recognized the value of libraries, and there is no reason to eliminate them now, especially as they are reaching more people.

            So far you've dragged in the Inuit, the missing link and now slavery. LOL

            This isn't an argument, it's just your addiction to dead-end statements.

          • If by "dead end statements" you mean such examples as, "even in our earliest beginnings we recognized the value of libraries", I couldn't agree more.

          • Do you not think people notice what you do trying to change around an argument like you have?

            Either you support libraries or you don't.

            Since you've already admitted you do, the rest is just playing games.

          • Or is "the rest" holding people accountable for making intellectually void arguments.

            Is it not possible to agree with the conclusion but not the argument made?

            Do you actually propose that we not correct absurd and inaccurate statements so long as those absurd and inaccurate statements are used to further our own ends.

            Man — get over yourself and just admit you said something foolish and be done with it.

  3. Well this might come as a shock to you, but I haven't followed your writing career. I have however noticed on here that you are not fond of atheists whatever you may have written in the past.

    You pointed out he was a 'grumpy atheist' in your first sentence after all….and it really has no bearing on a story about library closures. Would you have mentioned that he was a 'grumpy Baptist?'

    Pullman is known for his atheism, and his books in support of that….however there are others who don't mind shutting down libraries, and only he gets the attention. He even gets called an 'a-hole'. Would you call a known devout Catholic an 'a-hole'?

    Then Carnegie was dragged into it, promoting the idea of private funding for a public good….so the column seems to veer off into ideology.

    I understand you grew up with libraries, but with this column they seem to be sliding into being some 'elitist' thing, along with 'arts and culture' in general, that we should relegate to the private sector….or leave to volunteers to organize.

    That's why I wondered where you were going with this.

  4. Well this might come as a shock to you, but I haven't followed your writing career. I have however noticed on here that you are not fond of atheists whatever you may have written in the past.

    You pointed out he was a 'grumpy atheist' in your first sentence after all….and it really has no bearing on a story about library closures. Would you have mentioned that he was a 'grumpy Baptist?'

    Pullman is known for his atheism, and his books in support of that….however there are others who don't mind shutting down libraries, and only he gets the attention. He even gets called an 'a-hole'. Would you call a known devout Catholic an 'a-hole'?

    Then Carnegie was dragged into it, promoting the idea of private funding for a public good….so the column seems to veer off into ideology.

    I understand you grew up with libraries, but with this column they seem to be sliding into being some 'elitist' thing, along with 'arts and culture' in general, that we should relegate to the private sector….or leave to volunteers to organize.

    That's why I wondered where you were going with this.

    • "I have however noticed on here that you are not fond of atheists"

      You are a gibbering moron who never listens to anyone.

      To the substance: Pullman is, at this point, basically a professional atheist. We atheists need media-savvy professionals leading the charge; don't get me wrong. However, it's very much how *Pullman himself* would like to be described. (The atheist part, not the grumpy part, I assume). I see no reason not to mention it.

      • Suggest it all you like. Some people deserve only abuse, and you drive even casual readers like myself to frenzy with your inability to read, listen, or evolve.

      • Now this is an extreme case of pot calling the kettle black.

    • Before you embarrass yourself any further, please take full cognizance of the fact that Mr. Cosh is, in fact, an atheist himself.

      • You have a short memory.

        • Actually I have an eidetic memory

          • Apparently not.

          • Don't waste space being cryptic. It's boring.

          • Apparently not so boring that you won't reply. It's not cryptic, it's rather direct. It's the opposite of cryptic.

  5. It is pretty tough to muster any reasonable defense of public libraries in rich countries like the UK, not to mention Canada. There was a time for such institutions, but it has largely passed. Books are cheap and plentiful and the internet provides all the reference material anyone could ever want.

    My own local library is mostly given over to high school kids studying ( I assume they come from the local high rises and have nowhere else quiet to work), kids surfing the web or playing games and various worthy but not literary causes.

    Back in Blighty, they closed the library in my village, and replaced it with a mobile service. Its only customers are old folks who can't otherwise get to town. I don't expect any great literary or academic endeavor is being pursued – mostly Barbera Cartland and Harlequin romances.

    It is sad to see libraries close, just as it is for unused churches. We can still value what they contributed to life, but nostalgia is hardly a basis for public policy.

  6. It is pretty tough to muster any reasonable defense of public libraries in rich countries like the UK, not to mention Canada. There was a time for such institutions, but it has largely passed. Books are cheap and plentiful and the internet provides all the reference material anyone could ever want.

    My own local library is mostly given over to high school kids studying ( I assume they come from the local high rises and have nowhere else quiet to work), kids surfing the web or playing games and various worthy but not literary causes.

    Back in Blighty, they closed the library in my village, and replaced it with a mobile service. Its only customers are old folks who can't otherwise get to town. I don't expect any great literary or academic endeavor is being pursued – mostly Barbera Cartland and Harlequin romances.

    It is sad to see libraries close, just as it is for unused churches. We can still value what they contributed to life, but nostalgia is hardly a basis for public policy.

    • Libraries have been the saving of many a child in the country or in small tradition-bound communities.

      Children who don't have the money to buy books, and aren't allowed an internet connection.

      We should never shut down a source of knowledge, especially now that we're going into the Knowledge Age.

      • Trust me when I say that Oxfordshire is going to miss public libraries about as much as Rosedale.

        • Slippery slope argument.

          • Or perhaps you mean "thin edge of the wedge"? Of course. Denying some of the comfortable denizens of Oxfordshire the benefits of a library is just the first step on the road to closing down the British Library, the Library of Congress and …Fahrenheit 451…

          • Yes, it's a slippery slope, so don't go there to begin with.

          • So we can't close even a single library because it is a slippery slope from there to burning all libraries.

            Oh man. This argument can't even be parodied.

          • Every time money gets tight, the first thing some people want to do is shut down 'frills'.

            If we had ever allowed the argument to stand, we wouldn't have anything left by now

          • And if we didn't shut down anything, we wouldn't have anything left either.

            Use a little judgement, Emily.

          • That makes no sense at all.

          • Really? Do you think that money just magically appears? That we can endlessly add expenses without consequences? What color are the fairies' wings in your world?

          • Oxford isn't just posh students… From the Oxford website: Of 85 areas in Oxford, ten are among the 20% most deprived areas in England – These areas, which are in the Leys, Littlemore, Rose Hill and Barton areas of the city, experience multiple levels of deprivation – low skills, low incomes and high levels of crime.

            Oxford has a significant problem with homelessness – there is a high rate of rough sleeping.

            Google some of these places. There aren't any dreaming spires here. Admire the chicanes installed to stop the joy riders and the brutalist 1960's concrete

  7. Oh man, I just can't let this go: libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity? Just how, exactly, are you defining humanity?

    Genus Homo: ~2.5 million years ago
    Anatomically modern Homo sapiens? ~ 200,000 years ago
    Behaviourally modern Homo sapiens? ~100,000-50,000 years ago
    First Library? ~ 4th millennium BC or so — and they sure as hell were not public lending institutions.

    And wiping out culture? For goodness sakes, most cultures that have ever existed didn't even have written language!

    Are you honestly suggesting that the closing of Oxfordshire libraries is going to threaten British Culture?

  8. Libraries have been the saving of many a child in the country or in small tradition-bound communities.

    Children who don't have the money to buy books, and aren't allowed an internet connection.

    We should never shut down a source of knowledge, especially now that we're going into the Knowledge Age.

  9. Trust me when I say that Oxfordshire is going to miss public libraries about as much as Rosedale.

  10. Slippery slope argument.

  11. Or perhaps you mean "thin edge of the wedge"? Of course. Denying some of the comfortable denizens of Oxfordshire the benefits of a library is just the first step on the road to closing down the British Library, the Library of Congress and …Fahrenheit 451…

  12. Yes, it's a slippery slope, so don't go there to begin with.

  13. "But then, he doesn't have much to say about Labour. That would be class treason, one supposes"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Pullman

    Maybe CC needs to do a little more research himself. The British political and class system is quite different than ours. I suspect Pullman's objections are likely rooted in now ancient perceptions of Tories as candy snatchers [ Think Thatcher. I don't know if she got around to libraries as she was likely too busy confiscating poor kids milk and OJ]
    Agree strongly with your last point. Pullman should try to emulate some of positive aspects of Carnegie now that he is in a position to do so. That said i'd have more sympathy with your point about states balancing the books if they first started withe entittlements of the Carnegies of this world, rather than the easy targets, like libraries.

  14. "But then, he doesn't have much to say about Labour. That would be class treason, one supposes"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Pullman

    Maybe CC needs to do a little more research himself. The British political and class system is quite different than ours. I suspect Pullman's objections are likely rooted in now ancient perceptions of Tories as candy snatchers [ Think Thatcher. I don't know if she got around to libraries as she was likely too busy confiscating poor kids milk and OJ]
    Agree strongly with your last point. Pullman should try to emulate some of positive aspects of Carnegie now that he is in a position to do so. That said i'd have more sympathy with your point about states balancing the books if they first started withe entittlements of the Carnegies of this world, rather than the easy targets, like libraries.

    • Pullman has a strong commitment to traditional British civil liberties and is noted for his criticism of growing state authority and government encroachment into everyday life. In February 2009, he was the keynote speaker at the Convention on Modern Liberty in London[14] and wrote an extended piece in The Times condemning the Labour government for its attacks on basic civil rights.[15] Later, he and other authors threatened to stop visiting schools in protest at new laws requiring them to be vetted to work with youngsters — though officials claimed that the laws had been misinterpreted.[16] In 2010, Pullman left the Liberal Democrats, the party he supported.[17]

      I didn't previously know this about the guy, and every time i've heard him speak i didn't exactly feel warm all over. He seems a hard guy to like – perhaps all CC meant. But give him some credit where it is due CC – he clearly has been a critic, at least on occasion, of new labour.

  15. Mr. Cash, have you ever been to a public library in Britain? They are often quite tiny, and I take issue with your point about the number of libraries in Oxfordshire being indicative of oversupply. The local library in my Scottish town is about 1/5 the size of libraries I usually encountered in Ontario. Furthermore, the Bodleian is irrelevant; it isn't a lending library, and locals cannot borrow books. It is an amazing place, but in no way fulfills the many wonderful roles of a public library.
    You can accuse Pullman of a lot of things, but it's rather obvious that he has visited an Oxford public library, and you have not.

  16. "I have however noticed on here that you are not fond of atheists"

    You are a gibbering moron who never listens to anyone.

    To the substance: Pullman is, at this point, basically a professional atheist. We atheists need media-savvy professionals leading the charge; don't get me wrong. However, it's very much how *Pullman himself* would like to be described. (The atheist part, not the grumpy part, I assume). I see no reason not to mention it.

  17. Sorry, were those links supposed to answer my question?

    How, exactly, can you justify the statement that "libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity", unless you eliminate most of human existence from the category of "humanity"?

    And how does the fact that libraries have been destroyed support your assertion that "it is one sure way of wiping out a people's culture", unless you eliminate most of humanity from ever having "culture".

    Brutal argument.

  18. I see you never checked them out.

    Your loss. Remain in ignorance.

  19. Huh?

    Your first link describes what a public library is, and suggests nothing older than ~1900 BC. So are you saying that 1900 BC is the date of the "earliest days of humanity"? If so, it's totally absurd.

    Your second link is to a book that makes the argument that oppressors often destroy libraries in order to "erase culture", etc. Alas, while oppressors have certainly done such — and probably even for those purposes — they have not been very successful. I've read the book. It doesn't provide a single case study to support the claim that destroying the library actually destroyed the culture.

    And to apply that kind of wanton destruction to the closing of libraries in Oxfordshire is totally absurd.

  20. Before you embarrass yourself any further, please take full cognizance of the fact that Mr. Cosh is, in fact, an atheist himself.

  21. Are you really going to quibble about the word 'humanity' vs the word 'civilization'? I rather thought the two went together.

    But If so, I invite you to go on a dig to see how much further back we can establish libraries. Obviously they were a big thing already in 2000 BCE

    And I'm sure you haven't read the book, or you'd know better.

    I'm not talking about a library in Oxfordshire….I'm talking about Libraries…one leads to the other. As I say later in this thread, it's a slippery slope.

  22. Pullman has a strong commitment to traditional British civil liberties and is noted for his criticism of growing state authority and government encroachment into everyday life. In February 2009, he was the keynote speaker at the Convention on Modern Liberty in London[14] and wrote an extended piece in The Times condemning the Labour government for its attacks on basic civil rights.[15] Later, he and other authors threatened to stop visiting schools in protest at new laws requiring them to be vetted to work with youngsters — though officials claimed that the laws had been misinterpreted.[16] In 2010, Pullman left the Liberal Democrats, the party he supported.[17]

    I didn't previously know this about the guy, and every time i've heard him speak i didn't exactly feel warm all over. He seems a hard guy to like – perhaps all CC meant. But give him some credit where it is due CC – he clearly has been a critic, at least on occasion, of new labour.

  23. You really think it is a quibble?

    Humanity and "civilization" go together? Gosh, I'm sure glad I'm not an Inuit, or a Yanomamo, or 99.9% of the humans who ever lived on the planet who didn't use agriculture or written language. Would you believe *gasp* that there are even cultures today who don't have libraries. And some of them even think of themselves civilized humans. Alas, it appears you do not think of them as such. However, let's be frank, if all it takes to ruin a culture is to eliminate their library, I think I'll cast my lot with those illiterate societies who codify their culture in more robust symbolic structures than written text.

    And I'm still confused about what you think a 2000 BC library was. Big things? Do you really think the Summerians were issuing public library cards? The things were government archives, that had restricted access.

    The concept of a public library (as pointed out in your ever so helpful wikipedia link) didn't exist until at least the 5th century BC.. And even then they were only for the highly educated elite who could, you know, read.

    The fact is, truly public lending libraries are an entirely modern invention, and hardly can be considered one of the hallmarks of the obnoxiously phrased "earliest humanity" or even the equally obnoxiously phrased "earliest civilization".

  24. I think you just like to argue. LOL

    The fact is, we need them. Get over it.

  25. So we can't close even a single library because it is a slippery slope from there to burning all libraries.

    Oh man. This argument can't even be parodied.

  26. Hey, I'm all for libraries.

    But if the argument for keeping libraries is simply that "libraries have been around since the earliest days of humanity" you can count me out.

    It's not only a totally absurd statement, but since you don't like slippery slope arguments, it also means we should continue to support institutionalized slavery, which appeared around the same time as writing.

  27. Arrgh. If you live in one place and plan to comment about what is happening in another you need to do more than read articles on the internet.

    I live in Oxford and have been to the libraries in Hamilton.The Westdale library is a new, fresher looking version of the Summertown Library (due to close). The library fits into the community in exactly the same way in Canada as it does in the UK.

    I've seen Phillip Pullman in my public library.

    Oxford has some pretty grim parts – it's not all posh.

  28. Arrgh. If you live in one place and plan to comment about what is happening in another you need to do more than read articles on the internet.

    I live in Oxford and have been to the libraries in Hamilton.The Westdale library is a new, fresher looking version of the Summertown Library (due to close). The library fits into the community in exactly the same way in Canada as it does in the UK.

    I've seen Phillip Pullman in my public library.

    Oxford has some pretty grim parts – it's not all posh.

    • Agree. Oxford is as varied as Toronto. Pullman's North Oxford/Summertown sure ain't the Cowley Road. As the wife of an Oxford student with a small child I spent many hours in the libraries there.

  29. Like I said, you just like to argue.

    There was never any statement about how we should keep them solely because we've always had them. The statement was that even in our earliest beginnings we recognized the value of libraries, and there is no reason to eliminate them now, especially as they are reaching more people.

    So far you've dragged in the Inuit, the missing link and now slavery. LOL

    This isn't an argument, it's just your addiction to dead-end statements.

  30. Sure, I only meant to specify that he doesn't flog Labour in this particular speech.

  31. Every time money gets tight, the first thing some people want to do is shut down 'frills'.

    If we had ever allowed the argument to stand, we wouldn't have anything left by now

  32. Suggest it all you like. Some people deserve only abuse, and you drive even casual readers like myself to frenzy with your inability to read, listen, or evolve.

  33. If the libraries are so very tiny, then how is it he can make the claim:

    Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they're staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea?

    So, according to you and Pullman, there are tiny little libraries that require people with Phds and extensive expertise, and big paycheques and lots of time, to handle the volume, the traffic, the selection, the organization, and the huge challenge of managing these tiny little places with books in them.

  34. If the libraries are so very tiny, then how is it he can make the claim:

    Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they're staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea?

    So, according to you and Pullman, there are tiny little libraries that require people with Phds and extensive expertise, and big paycheques and lots of time, to handle the volume, the traffic, the selection, the organization, and the huge challenge of managing these tiny little places with books in them.

  35. For those people like Pullman who want to defend their special interest from budget cuts (yes, it's a special interest, there is a sizeable number of people that do not share his opinions), they should be obliged to identify exactly what else should be cut instead.

  36. For those people like Pullman who want to defend their special interest from budget cuts (yes, it's a special interest, there is a sizeable number of people that do not share his opinions), they should be obliged to identify exactly what else should be cut instead.

    • Trident missile systems.

      • Does Oxfordshire County Council maintain a significant fleet of ballistic missile submarines?

        • The money cut was coming from Westminster, which does hold a special interest in nuclear deterrent – which is being replaced with a cost of £15bn and £20bn.

          The twenty libraries cost about 6 quid per person per year in Oxfordshire.

          http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/archive/2011/01/24/Ox

          • The trident missile program is a 30 year program with running costs of £1.5 bn per year in addition to the fixed costs that you mention. This comes out to about 33 quid per person in Oxfordshire. So, do they want the libraries for 6 quid per year, or do they want their country to maintain their advanced defense systems for 33 quid per year. Keep in mind Britain is a country that needed a strong military defense to repel a foreign invasion just 65 years ago, and was also involved in the multi-decade cold war that ended 21 years ago.

          • The Cold War only went into a long pause. The Russians are modernizing their weapons, the Chinese are coming on strong and the Iranians will have nukes soon.

            It is essential for the UK to maintain an independent strategic deterrent force.

  37. Now this is an extreme case of pot calling the kettle black.

  38. You have a short memory.

  39. Trident missile systems.

  40. Actually I have an eidetic memory

  41. Apparently not.

  42. If by "dead end statements" you mean such examples as, "even in our earliest beginnings we recognized the value of libraries", I couldn't agree more.

  43. And if we didn't shut down anything, we wouldn't have anything left either.

    Use a little judgement, Emily.

  44. Don't waste space being cryptic. It's boring.

  45. Do you not think people notice what you do trying to change around an argument like you have?

    Either you support libraries or you don't.

    Since you've already admitted you do, the rest is just playing games.

  46. That makes no sense at all.

  47. Apparently not so boring that you won't reply. It's not cryptic, it's rather direct. It's the opposite of cryptic.

  48. Agree. Oxford is as varied as Toronto. Pullman's North Oxford/Summertown sure ain't the Cowley Road. As the wife of an Oxford student with a small child I spent many hours in the libraries there.

  49. Or is "the rest" holding people accountable for making intellectually void arguments.

    Is it not possible to agree with the conclusion but not the argument made?

    Do you actually propose that we not correct absurd and inaccurate statements so long as those absurd and inaccurate statements are used to further our own ends.

    Man — get over yourself and just admit you said something foolish and be done with it.

  50. Really? Do you think that money just magically appears? That we can endlessly add expenses without consequences? What color are the fairies' wings in your world?

  51. Fair enough.

  52. Fair enough.

  53. Does Oxfordshire County Council maintain a significant fleet of ballistic missile submarines?

  54. The money cut was coming from Westminster, which does hold a special interest in nuclear deterrent – which is being replaced with a cost of £15bn and £20bn.

    The twenty libraries cost about 6 quid per person per year in Oxfordshire.

    http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/archive/2011/01/24/Ox

  55. Oxford – UNESCO World Book Capital where you can visit the boarded up public library

  56. Oxford – UNESCO World Book Capital where you can visit the boarded up public library

    • No, you can visit a boarded up public library.

  57. Oxford isn't just posh students… From the Oxford website: Of 85 areas in Oxford, ten are among the 20% most deprived areas in England – These areas, which are in the Leys, Littlemore, Rose Hill and Barton areas of the city, experience multiple levels of deprivation – low skills, low incomes and high levels of crime.

    Oxford has a significant problem with homelessness – there is a high rate of rough sleeping.

    Google some of these places. There aren't any dreaming spires here. Admire the chicanes installed to stop the joy riders and the brutalist 1960's concrete

  58. No, you can visit a boarded up public library.

  59. The trident missile program is a 30 year program with running costs of £1.5 bn per year in addition to the fixed costs that you mention. This comes out to about 33 quid per person in Oxfordshire. So, do they want the libraries for 6 quid per year, or do they want their country to maintain their advanced defense systems for 33 quid per year. Keep in mind Britain is a country that needed a strong military defense to repel a foreign invasion just 65 years ago, and was also involved in the multi-decade cold war that ended 21 years ago.

  60. I don't know about the UK, but public libraries in the US now serve primarily to loan out DVDs, babysit kids for a couple hours after school, and provide Internet porn to the homeless. Oh, and they warehouse lots of old books.

  61. I don't know about the UK, but public libraries in the US now serve primarily to loan out DVDs, babysit kids for a couple hours after school, and provide Internet porn to the homeless. Oh, and they warehouse lots of old books.

  62. This argument against closing libraries boils down to confusing metaphor with reality.

    Libraries have been a symbol of civilization, a beacon of learning, a bastion of truth under the siege of ignorance, blah blah blah blah. What they actually are, in unromantic material reality (that thing Pullman venerates when he isn't speaking or, come to think of it, writing professionally) is a mostly outdated tool. Like the common hand mallet, which is useful for lyrical mentions or emblazoning on the flag of your new union of socialist republics, the library is not completely useless but its former utility has been mostly co-opted by its modern replacements.

    I would not want to live in a world without libraries (or, for that matter, hand mallets), but I cannot fault a municipality for drawing back the edges of a library program it considers overly extravagant. It's also worth noting that the reason libraries are closing all over the west is because it is too hard to eliminate spending that is protected by powerful interest groups, mostly the same people who wax tragic about library spending.

    As an aside, anyone who has read Pullman's extensive statements on his more or less excellent (if a bit creepy for its intended age group) children's literature will note that he has an extremely romantic view of Oxford and its environs, quite aside from his religious, political, and metaphysical notions.

  63. This argument against closing libraries boils down to confusing metaphor with reality.

    Libraries have been a symbol of civilization, a beacon of learning, a bastion of truth under the siege of ignorance, blah blah blah blah. What they actually are, in unromantic material reality (that thing Pullman venerates when he isn't speaking or, come to think of it, writing professionally) is a mostly outdated tool. Like the common hand mallet, which is useful for lyrical mentions or emblazoning on the flag of your new union of socialist republics, the library is not completely useless but its former utility has been mostly co-opted by its modern replacements.

    I would not want to live in a world without libraries (or, for that matter, hand mallets), but I cannot fault a municipality for drawing back the edges of a library program it considers overly extravagant. It's also worth noting that the reason libraries are closing all over the west is because it is too hard to eliminate spending that is protected by powerful interest groups, mostly the same people who wax tragic about library spending.

    As an aside, anyone who has read Pullman's extensive statements on his more or less excellent (if a bit creepy for its intended age group) children's literature will note that he has an extremely romantic view of Oxford and its environs, quite aside from his religious, political, and metaphysical notions.

    • Amen. There are thoroughly modern replacements that have made libraries increasingly obsolete. There are romantics out there who want everything old retained just for the sake of it. But there is dwindling demand for libraries, and reducing their number is perfectly rational and in no way a harm to the community. Basically this boils down to a group of people unwilling to embrace modern progress in information sharing, like preferring the printing press to the internet just because it came first. It's muddle-headed silliness, more about maintaining certain people's perceptions of culture than actually about educating people.

  64. Pullman is living in the past. The Internet, the Kindle and their successors and spinoffs will make libraries irrelevant. Nevertheless, cash strapped local govts around Vancouver are still forking out $30 to $40 million to build these white elephants. For that kind of money they could buy almost 300,000 Kindles.

  65. Pullman is living in the past. The Internet, the Kindle and their successors and spinoffs will make libraries irrelevant. Nevertheless, cash strapped local govts around Vancouver are still forking out $30 to $40 million to build these white elephants. For that kind of money they could buy almost 300,000 Kindles.

    • You can download e-books onto your computer/e-readers from the public library in Calgary. It is a fantastic system. I do not know why there has to be a duplication of services. Universities should sell memberships to their libraries and then they and the public library could amalgamate to provide better services for everyone at a lower cost to taxpayers.

    • The library is not just a "server" of books but a place to browse. The key is not just that there are loads of books in the same place but you can look at them – for free. How do I know what I want if a can't have a look around? 300,000 Kindles won't let me find the book I didn't know existed. I know places like Amazon attempt to address (and I find it useful too) with "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" but that's different than actually having a look and perhaps signing it out.

      The other issue is with access – as a child I could read about what I wanted to in the library – but I don't think that I would have read as widely as I have if I had to ask my parents to buy every book.

  66. Amen. There are thoroughly modern replacements that have made libraries increasingly obsolete. There are romantics out there who want everything old retained just for the sake of it. But there is dwindling demand for libraries, and reducing their number is perfectly rational and in no way a harm to the community. Basically this boils down to a group of people unwilling to embrace modern progress in information sharing, like preferring the printing press to the internet just because it came first. It's muddle-headed silliness, more about maintaining certain people's perceptions of culture than actually about educating people.

  67. Given that nobody actually knows which person or group burned the Library of Alexandria, it is not surprising that Pullman would state conclusively that it was Christians. His atheism manifests itself, always, as anti-Christianity. He is such a stereotypical, lefty know-nothing its incredible; if someone made up a literary character that expressed Pullman's views no one would find the character convincing as no one would believe that a person could be so one-dimensional and think so uncritically.

  68. Given that nobody actually knows which person or group burned the Library of Alexandria, it is not surprising that Pullman would state conclusively that it was Christians. His atheism manifests itself, always, as anti-Christianity. He is such a stereotypical, lefty know-nothing its incredible; if someone made up a literary character that expressed Pullman's views no one would find the character convincing as no one would believe that a person could be so one-dimensional and think so uncritically.

  69. Read Pullman's books and you'll see lots more unconvincing one-dimensional characters.

  70. Read Pullman's books and you'll see lots more unconvincing one-dimensional characters.

  71. Pullman is a dweeb, but Hamilton, Ontario (1100 sq. km) is NOT the same geograpic size as Oxfordshire (2600 sq. km), even for those not Canadian readers. Nor does it have the same population. Have you ever been to Oxfordshire, Mr. Cosh? When you're shooting fish in a barrell like Pullman, why do you need to make up stuff?

  72. Pullman is a dweeb, but Hamilton, Ontario (1100 sq. km) is NOT the same geograpic size as Oxfordshire (2600 sq. km), even for those not Canadian readers. Nor does it have the same population. Have you ever been to Oxfordshire, Mr. Cosh? When you're shooting fish in a barrell like Pullman, why do you need to make up stuff?

    • Why would you assume someone was "making up stuff" instead of just making a math error? I suppose I should be pleased by the presumption of wickedness instead of stupidity (the actual source of the problem).

  73. Why would you assume someone was "making up stuff" instead of just making a math error? I suppose I should be pleased by the presumption of wickedness instead of stupidity (the actual source of the problem).

  74. When you get right down to it, a library is a legal and publicly funded mechanism to deny authors fair compensation for consumption of their product.

    Hundreds of people are reading my work? Wow! Cool! So, how many of those were retail sales? I'm sorry, did you say… ONE??!!????

  75. When you get right down to it, a library is a legal and publicly funded mechanism to deny authors fair compensation for consumption of their product.

    Hundreds of people are reading my work? Wow! Cool! So, how many of those were retail sales? I'm sorry, did you say… ONE??!!????

    • Congratulations, you have pointed out the difference between public and private goods.

      It all goes back to the Tory gentry Lauderdale, who criticized 18th century liberal political economists on the basis that the gain in the private exchange-value economy was dependent on the destruction of the common use-value economy.

      Case in point: for a truly liberal 'free market' in books as products for sale on the market you need to destroy all libraries.

  76. Well, actually, we can have quite a good idea that it was not Christians. Some sources [e.g. Plutarch] say Caesar accidentally burned it down in 48 BC. This would have required Christians to time travel back to before Christ was born, and mind-control Caesar. Improbable.

    Others say, based on interpretation of contemporaneous accounts, that it could have been before 28 BC. Again, time travel.

    We know though, for a fact, that Aurelian, in his reconquest of Egypt in 272-273 burned the Royal Quarter (which had contained the Library (possibly already destroyed by Caesar), as well as two other libraries). If the Library had survived to that point (somewhat doubtful), then Aurelian destroyed it.

    Was Aurelian Christian? No. He persecuted them, as did the Roman Empire until at least the 290's. Christians first became able to pray without molestation circa 313, and Christianity became the official faith of the Empire late in the 300's.

    So Christians either had to travel back in time to before the birth of Christ (and use magical mind control on Caesar), or they had to use their magical mind control at a time when they were heavily persecuted by the Empire. There are no reliable contemporaneous accounts of Christians burning the Library; uniformly, Rome (at various times) seems the likely culprit, and at a time when Rome was still happily persecuting Christians, slaughtering them in the thousands at a time.

    Now, is there any truth to the idea that Christians destroyed documents that were once part of the Library of Alexandria? Sadly, maybe. Theophilus became Patriarch of Alexandria (the city was still strongly divided between pagans, Jews, and Christians), and he ordered the destruction of the pagan Temple of Serapis, and its conversion to a Christian church. The Temple may well have held some religious documents remaining from the Library (some sources estimate as much as 10% of the holdings). This was between 120 and 440 years after the Library itself was definitively burned.

    But the same accusation was (surprise) cast against Muslims when they took Alexandria two hundred and fifty years later. And yes, it's quite possible that some remaining documents (and many Christian documents) were destroyed then as well.

    But neither Christians, nor Jews, nor Muslims burned the Library at Alexandria. To say otherwise is to put forth obviously incorrect statements that can only be based either on profound ignorance or malice, with a desire to pump out bigoted hate propaganda designed to inflame violence against an identifiable religious group.

    That said, I'm all for public libraries, though I think it's perfectly fine for the local council to pay more than Westminster. Public libraries are the best way for people to be able to examine the claims of a man like Pullman and find them wanting; he is clearly either deeply ignorant, or a vicious, malicious, hateful bigot.

  77. Congratulations, you have pointed out the difference between public and private goods.

    It all goes back to the Tory gentry Lauderdale, who criticized 18th century liberal political economists on the basis that the gain in the private exchange-value economy was dependent on the destruction of the common use-value economy.

    Case in point: for a truly liberal 'free market' in books as products for sale on the market you need to destroy all libraries.

  78. Actually Guest, some of the branches in our cities are tiny too. The branch in my neighborhood in Calgary hardly has any books so what happens is you order the book in from the main library or one of the other branches and it is sent to your local branch.

  79. Actually Guest, some of the branches in our cities are tiny too. The branch in my neighborhood in Calgary hardly has any books so what happens is you order the book in from the main library or one of the other branches and it is sent to your local branch.

  80. You can download e-books onto your computer/e-readers from the public library in Calgary. It is a fantastic system. I do not know why there has to be a duplication of services. Universities should sell memberships to their libraries and then they and the public library could amalgamate to provide better services for everyone at a lower cost to taxpayers.

  81. What drives me nuts about this "cut police/fire/library/teaching staff" is this – these services collectively tend to only occupy about 25% – 30% of a municipal/locality budget. The REAL cuts should be made in the places that don't affect the general public – the hordes of middle/upper managers who are largely marking time to gain sweetheart retirement packages unavailable to the vast quantity of the productive population.

    These non-producers are the problem, and need to be laid-off en-mass, with no benefits granted at all. Generally speaking, governments can cut 75% of expenditures without anyone noticing – except those free-loading bureaucrats who will now need to get real, productive jobs as McDonald's burger flippers for the first time in their lives in order to keep from starving. Fine with me; they should have taken those jobs when they were 16 instead of 56… and maybe learned something about the real world.

    And if they fail to get even that minimal lesson, and become starving street-people? So be it.
    They dug their grave, let them lie in it.

  82. What drives me nuts about this "cut police/fire/library/teaching staff" is this – these services collectively tend to only occupy about 25% – 30% of a municipal/locality budget. The REAL cuts should be made in the places that don't affect the general public – the hordes of middle/upper managers who are largely marking time to gain sweetheart retirement packages unavailable to the vast quantity of the productive population.

    These non-producers are the problem, and need to be laid-off en-mass, with no benefits granted at all. Generally speaking, governments can cut 75% of expenditures without anyone noticing – except those free-loading bureaucrats who will now need to get real, productive jobs as McDonald's burger flippers for the first time in their lives in order to keep from starving. Fine with me; they should have taken those jobs when they were 16 instead of 56… and maybe learned something about the real world.

    And if they fail to get even that minimal lesson, and become starving street-people? So be it.
    They dug their grave, let them lie in it.

  83. The library is not just a "server" of books but a place to browse. The key is not just that there are loads of books in the same place but you can look at them – for free. How do I know what I want if a can't have a look around? 300,000 Kindles won't let me find the book I didn't know existed. I know places like Amazon attempt to address (and I find it useful too) with "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" but that's different than actually having a look and perhaps signing it out.

    The other issue is with access – as a child I could read about what I wanted to in the library – but I don't think that I would have read as widely as I have if I had to ask my parents to buy every book.

  84. The Cold War only went into a long pause. The Russians are modernizing their weapons, the Chinese are coming on strong and the Iranians will have nukes soon.

    It is essential for the UK to maintain an independent strategic deterrent force.

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