Quote of the moment: Neil Gaiman, on what keeps civilization from barbarism

Found it on Facebook.

Neil Gaiman:

Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism.

Looking for the citation of where Gaiman wrote that; probably here.  Gaiman is a contemporary British author of short stories and other works.

No credit line appears for the photo of the library, nor for the design of the quote on the photo.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen.


9 Responses to Quote of the moment: Neil Gaiman, on what keeps civilization from barbarism

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Ah, for the want of punctuation.

    Do you think Carnegie meant, “Free, for all?” Or did he mean “Free for all!?”

    Carnegie was no fool, that’s for sure. At his insistence, the Carnegie Foundation put a clause in the donation contracts: If the locals ever stopped using those buildings as libraries, the title reverted to the Foundation, who might then sell the property to get money to give to someone else. I’m not sure the enforcement of that provision has been perfect across the nation (like the lack of enforcement of the deeds for swimming pools built with funds from the Heritage Conservation Fund, but I digress). The District of Columbia ran into difficulty when it built the University of the District of Columbia around the Carnegie Library, and then converted the old library into the administration building. The Foundation asked for the title back. The University, perhaps wisely, but with a great deal of tongue wagging in D.C., moved part of the university’s library into the building, and that appeased the Carnegie Foundation for a while.

    Not sure what the status is now.

    Bay Area public broadcasting does a great job of documenting local history. I’d like to see that library thing sometime.


  2. Porlock Junior says:

    In Eisenhower’s day there were powerful Republicans who were not stupid and not so full of malice as to achieve stupidity. (Sin has a corrupting influence on everything.) Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make stupid. Or if you prefer Jefferson to the classics, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is not stoopid.

    Once we had capitalists like Andrew Carnegie: not a nice man at all, and an obscenely rich and arrogant exploiter of workers; but one of the people who really invented capitalist industry, therefore a genuine Job Creator, and a republican in a true sense, who rejected hereditary aristocracy. To help people rise from nothing as he had done, he endowed massive numbers of public libraries, with the restriction that they had to have FREE FOR ALL over the doorway.

    In my lifetime we have moved to capitalist pundits, who never built anything and spent their lives in university libraries endowed by the very rich and open to anyone who duly qualified; or almost everyone. For instance, my prime terrorist (your characterization), Milton Friedman, who publicly argued that public libraries were an indulgence of the middle class, who demanded support for their costly luxury at the expense of everyone; hence libraries are a means of oppressing the poor. No kidding. This was explicit.

    (But Carnegie’s libraries rely on taxes! Duh. Carnegie, not being stupid, was aware that operating a library costs money; he was fronting the seed money to cover the expense of getting them started. You know, providing capital.)

    Of course I lack the citation from Newsweek sometime around 1980 when it was running columns by Friedman and by John Kenneth Galbraith. But that’s where it was, and I am not exaggerating.

    BTW: Story in the S.F. Chronicle today (sfgate.com) about a couple of movie makers doing a documentary on libraries, focusing on San Francisco, which keeps up its invesment in libraries. Title turns out to be “Free for All”.


  3. JamesK says:

    To quote: I always tell our little girl that books will make her big and strong. (She doesn’t believe me, because her mother tells her green beans do that!)

    Well she will be. If she carrys around Tolkien’s Lord of the RIngs that is.


  4. Jim says:

    I always tell our little girl that books will make her big and strong. (She doesn’t believe me, because her mother tells her green beans do that!)

    Thanks for this, Ed. I am still ticked off about Alexandria.



  5. Ed Darrell says:

    This one from Dr. Who:

    You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have – arm yourselves!



  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Good point, Paul. You may remember Tom Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. A key part of that book was how the monks in Ireland were able to preserve in their libraries enough information to reconstruct civilization after the Dark Ages, because Ireland was enough out of the way that the libraries in monasteries there did not suffer plundering and destruction in war.

    What’s been lost, in the burning of the Library in Alexandria (more than once?) and the campaigns against knowledge through the ages, including the religious attempts to crush out knowledge found offensive (Hypatia, Pythagoras, etc.) — including the recent destruction of historic documents and tombs in Timbuktu?

    Way back in the 1950s, the pointy-heads in the Eisenhower administration thought to ask what would happen to civilization were there, in fact, a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The answer is that much of civilization would be destroyed. Then they did the brilliant thing that I worry too few would do today: They asked, upon what foundations could civilization be rebuilt if the New York Public Library, the Harvard Library, the Stanford Library, the Library of Congress and others were destroyed?

    The answer was the Eisenhower Library program, which allocated $100 million to be sure there was a library in every county or borough or parish in the U.S., and to put the best books and contemporary information in them.

    Those were days when even Republicans felt an obligation to lead the way to build civilization, and to make sure civilization would survive a destructive war.

    For many years that program was, other than scholarships through Pell Grants, the largest single contribution the U.S. government made to education in America, well into the Reagan administration. When I was responsible for spreading the word about that program, by law, I was under orders from Reagan officials (including Bill Bennett, ironically) to not talk about the program. They hoped to kill it, to save money.

    Eventually, enough legislators from World War II and the Eisenhower era died or retired, the program was killed.

    It is interesting to me, and troubling, that the with all the internet offers, we lost much of that spirit from the Eisenhower let’s-save-civilization era, and much of the knowledge is not available. In my debating and hard politicking days, we used to pride ourselves on finding almost anything in any library we had, very quickly. I recall vividly writing speeches using the periodicals from the county library in Loa, Utah population 572 in the 2010 Census, the county seat of Wayne County, population 2,589. I don’t think you could do that today. (Loa was named with a Hawaiian word meaning “high, large and powerful,” by Franklin Young, a Mormon who had traveled and served a mission in Hawaii; the county is named after Wayne County, Tennessee; Mormons have a strong tradition of learning and traveling, and building schools and libraries.)

    People who do not love libraries become tantamount to terrorists, it seems to me. Those who do not work to build and maintain good libraries, do the work of evildoers through all time.

    What was that great line about libraries from the recent Dr. Who series?


  7. Gaiman’s quote makes a lot of sense to me. Some years ago, I read a book on ancient engineering accomplishments. It was striking how people would accomplish some wonderful feat of engineering and then lose the secret of how to do it after a few years or decades. I concluded that the fact their techniques weren’t widely disseminated had something to do with that loss. And, of course, they were not widely disseminated because of a lack of literacy, libraries and printing presses.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Pinker’s book is pretty good? An important one to put on the list, perhaps, for the anti-violence gun control discussions?


  9. blueollie says:

    I am reading Pinker’s book (Better Angels of Our Nature) and one of the factors that may have helped reduce violence was fiction becoming more widely read. The idea: “gee, I might not like it so much if I were broken on the wheel…maybe I shouldn’t do that to anyone else” sort of thing. Empathy came from reading about others.


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: