Bibliothecarial Ignorance and School Boards

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January 29, 2018 by libroshombre


Adolph Hitler’s better known than Dr. Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s one-man think tank, but both were involved in the sordid history of library destruction. That’s why our word for the week is “bibliothecarial: of or relating to a library.” English bibliophile John Dee led an interesting life between 1527-1609, including assembling a great library. According to the John Dee Society, “Dee’s library, at 4,000 volumes, was the largest philosophical and scientific library collection in Elizabethan England, and arguably the greatest of all Renaissance Europe, as is generally agreed by scholars.”

            The Royal College of Physicians owns the remnants of Dee’s collection, around 100 volumes, and describes him as “one of Tudor England’s most extraordinary and enigmatic figures – a Renaissance polymath, with interests in almost all branches of learning. He served Elizabeth I at court, advised navigators on trade routes to the ‘New World,’ travelled throughout Europe and studied ancient history, astronomy, cryptography, and mathematics. He is also known for his passion for mystical subjects, including astrology, alchemy, and the world of angels.”

           A 1659 book about Dee’s conversations with angels in our library’s antiquarian collection brought him to my attention. Besides being the queen’s astrologer – a top-secret position at the time – he was her spy. Dee traveled the European capitals conversing with angels for heads of state while acquiring secret information to pass along to Elizabeth using his cryptography skills.During his European foray, “he entrusted the care of his library and laboratories to his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond.” But according to Dee, the scoundrel sold some of his books and covered it up by arranging a mob to accuse Dee of witchcraft and sack his home and library.

That’s bad bibliothecarial juju, but it doesn’t compare to the library destruction wrought by Nazi Germany. Swedish researcher Anders Rydell is writing a trilogy detailing the massive literary and artistic destruction and desecration committed by Nazis hellbent on bolstering their nation’s culture while annihilating those of others. “The Book Thieves,” the second of Anders’ trilogy, was published In English last year, and naturally it’s in our excellent library. Although well written, Anders’ descriptions of “the formal effort to wipe out the cultural imprint of Nazi-targeted people by looting and destroying the records of their histories and deliberations” is not a happy read.

“The Jews were the first targets, but libraries of Freemasons, socialists, communists, and Catholics were also looted,” according to a book review from “As the Germans conquered Eastern European countries, the Nazis added Slavs to the list. They confiscated millions of books and documents to stock German research institutions, and simply torched hundreds of millions more. Only a small percentage of the institutional holdings got back to their homes.”

Though it’s not nearly on the same scale nor for the same nefarious reasons, one has to wonder why school libraries are being diminished to such an astonishing degree. After all, a recent News Miner headline titled “Efforts Grow to Help Students Evaluate What They See Online,” describes how “state lawmakers around the country are pushing schools to put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell fact from fiction.” Legislation’s been introduced or passed in Connecticut, Washington, Rhode Island, and bills are scheduled for introduction in others, though not Alaska. The bi-partisan efforts “have pushed schools to incorporate media literacy – including the ability to evaluate and analyze sources of information. … Their efforts started getting traction after the 2016 presidential election, which highlighted how even many adults can be fooled by false and misleading content peddled by agenda-driven domestic and foreign sources.”

Instructing students in locating, evaluating, and utilizing information is the prime objective of school librarians. It requires trained librarians who have the time and resources to do their jobs. Numerous authoritative studies prove that spending money on school libraries – for more staff, books, or even new paint and furnishings – improves reading scores. So why do library staffing and support keep being reduced?

For example, until two years ago our school district hired a degreed librarian to supervise, train, and assist the school librarians, especially those at elementary schools, where a library degree isn’t required for the library associates. Then the position was eliminated. Talk about bad juju.

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