At the very heart of that American dream which has created an that is most admirable in our society lies education. It is, of course, necessary in a democracy that the voter is fed and clothed, not so that he can become fat and fancy, but so that he will have the opportunity to improve himself, enlarge his knowledge and judgment, and help lead the nation aright.

Does education mean only taking courses? There is today, when institutionalization is conquering American life, a discouraging tendency to regard self-education as obsolete. But surely self-education, once universally recognized as basic to the American spirit, remains basic to all learning. Who should give courses? We hope not a professor who is reading the notes he took from lectures by a previous professor who is reading the notes he once took, and so on back to what Eve said to Adam after she bit into the apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

Every time a person--student, professor, or whoever--reaches out for a personal conclusion or a new idea, he is engaged in self-education. Libraries are the capitals of self-education. The young today speak of "doing your own thing." In the arena of knowledge, the most universal and flexible tool for doing your own thing is the library.

Why does the government regard sending citizens to school and often on to college as so important that the opportunity should be furnished free by the state and yet allow libraries to languish? It is hard to believe that this generation has become so mean-spirited that it regards education merely as a means of gaining social status and securing a job. If education is more than that, if it is an expansion of the mind, elementary schools and high schools and community colleges and four-year colleges and graduate schools are tools of major importance; but at the core are libraries.

Public libraries accompany the citizen from childhood to the grave.

This essay originally appeared as the Foreword in For the People: Fighting for Public Libraries, ed. Whitney North Seymour, Jr., and Elizabeth N. Layne ( New York: Double- day, 1979), pp. xiii-xv.


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