Magazine article The Nation

Bookish Protest

Magazine article The Nation

Bookish Protest

Article excerpt

Bookish Protest

Ignorance is like an exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone." Lady Bracknell's mordant observation could serve as an epigraph for the Reagan Administration's appalling record of restrictions o the flow of information to Americans. The war against enlightenment is waged with many weapons: by narrowing the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, by stopping the dissemination of transcripts and documents from public agencies, by closing government bookstores and reading rooms, by denying visas to writers critical of the United States, by attacking newspapers that print disagreeable stories and networks that present unpleasant accounts of government activities, by using lie detector tests against whistleblowers, by restricting the attendance of foreign scholars at scientific gatherings. Some of the skirmishes seem insignificant: in one instance, the Federal Communications Commission turned over the publication of its opinions and decisions to a private service, making it harder, and more expensive, for researchers to procure their materials. Other cases are more egregious: the C.I.A. is moving back into the nation's intellectual life after a cautious post-Vietnam period, directing scholarship into politically useful streams and collecting a corps of teachers with an appropriate academic sensibility who will dominate their fields. All of it promotes ignorance in one way or another, whether by suppressing information and communication or, more subtly, by channeling knowledge into official service.

Opposition to the campaign has been slow to build, in part because the Administration has camouflaged its meaning with superficial rationales--budget constraints, security requirements, bureaucratic convenience. But just as a new dark age is descending on Washington, the children of enlightenment have rallied. The unlikely setting for this small Armageddon is the main reading room of the Library of Congress, a haven for researchers, browsers and literary adventure seekers from around the world. When librarian Daniel Boorstin, who had protested the cuts, attempted to shorten the weekly hours of operation by nearly a third, to reduce acquisitions, to cut programs for the blind and other handicapped users and to fire 300 employees, the readers rose up in an angry protest.

Led by a Nader Raider, Russell Mokhiber, who had recently toiled in the library to research a book on corporate crime, the readers organized a demonstration and sit-in against the cutbacks. …

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