Middle-class support for libraries has persisted only as long as the middle class perceives its own need for them. To the extent that middle-class consumers see their information needs (and those of their children) provided at the privacy of their computer desks, their support for public libraries, in particular, dwindles. In the current political climate, are public libraries destined to go the way of other publicly funded services for the disadvantaged--condemned as a sort of intellectual welfare?
(Pawley, 1998, 136)
In Hegemony's handmaid? The library and information studies curriculum from a class perspective, Christine Pawley examines LIS curriculum through the critical/analytical lens of class. Using modified Marxist theory, Pawley claims that the LIS curriculum "is just one of a constellation of middle-class practices aimed at maintaining hegemonic control by the dominant class"(123). Pawley claims that this control is located in four areas: links with the corporate world, professionalization, aspiration to scientific status, and stratification of literacy and of institutions. Pawley advises LIS education to incorporate social theory into its curriculum to provide students and LIS professionals with the "tool for rigorous, theoretical, and empowering analysis of current far-ranging societal changes" (123).
The above quote is an excellent example of such an analysis that is appropriate for the current economic, social, and political changes in Michigan. Public libraries seem to be under attack, especially in some of the reportedly wealthiest locations in Michigan. For instance, the city of Troy is considering closing its only library. I believe voters rejected a recent millage because it included funding for the library and a few other places that were considered trivial (e.g. a water-slide park).
Some have argued that this closure is purely economic. The city can no longer afford the library and other amenities during our current financial crisis. But if we look at this from a class perspective, we can ask certain questions: How did the residents of Troy view this library? Was it the important social and political center of their lives, or was it just a place for other (read "poor") people to congregate and check out books?
This is important. If most of these voters perceived that they can satisfy social, political, and information needs at other venues, they may have considered the public library redundant and therefore not needed. Why fund the library when they can order books online? Why use the library as a civic center when the local private country club may serve the same needs? Perhaps they thought state and federal governments should financially support local library programs for under-served and vulnerable populations (those other people). Perhaps they truly considered the public library "intellectual welfare".
On November 2nd, Troy residents (Trojans?) will vote on a separate millage for the library. However, the ballot seems to include three separate millage proposals that may confuse voters and cause them to reject all three. I consider private ownership and distribution of information "middle-class practices" that a allows a dominant class to maintain hegemony. I hope that the voters will look beyond their own (perhaps unspoken and undefined) need for such control and vote to keep the library open.
Pawley, C. (1998). Hegemony's handmaiden? The library and information studies curriculum from a class perspective. The Library Quarterly, 68 (2), 123-144. Accessed from http://www.jstor.org/