A New Pragmatism

By Manley, Will | American Libraries, August 1998 | Go to article overview

A New Pragmatism


Manley, Will, American Libraries


A prediction I made last fall is unfortunately coming true. Public libraries are rapidly becoming the main battlegrounds where our political wars are being fought. Bills have been introduced in state after state that would mandate internet filtering in public libraries.

Now that the ominous shadow of the Cold War has been lifted, the nation has turned inward. No longer do we care about the fate of Angola, Cambodia, or Vietnam. All we care about is America. As a result, educators, economists, medical caregivers, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, and -- last but not least -- TV talk-show hosts are putting their microscopes and spotlights on "we the people." What they are finding is that "we" are not all that healthy. True, there is a certain inevitability to this diagnosis. To a large degree, these professional groups have a real interest in proclaiming America a dysfunctional society. it's good for their business. If, for instance, the whole country went cold turkey, where would that leave the lucrative rehab industry?

On the other hand, all you have to do is open the newspaper to see that something is rotten in the state of America. Rural youths have joined urban youths in killing each other with rapid-fire armaments, standardized test scores continue to fall, suicide rates are up, drug abuse is increasing, and the prototypical American family looks a lot more like the Simpsons than the Cleavers.

As a result, moral values have become the new touchstone of the political arena. Political debates now center on which candidate has the more virtuous policy agenda. The maddening aspect of this rush to values, however, is that the accompanying rhetoric is largely filled with empty symbolism. Instead of centering the debate on how to increase materials budgets and enhance youth services in libraries, policymakers only seem to want to talk about policing pornography on the Internet. I almost feel that if pornography didn't exist, our politicians would have to invent it just to have something to self-righteously rail against.

The reality is, however, that sex has always been a controversial issue in our field. It's ironic that our professional stereotype of the uptight, bun-headed spinster is so much at odds with the sex controversies in which we are perpetually enmeshed. …

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