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Lewis & Quark


In Praise of Libraries

     What is the best place you've ever been? Ever. For some people, they can't attach happiness to a particular place. But for a lot of people, certain places produce certain emotions in us. And then we want to be into those places. For me, there is one place that has given me a wide range of emotions. Peace. Safety. Exhilaration. Happiness. The library is, in all honesty, the greatest place to be.
     The human story is one long epistemology. Epistemology, simply defined, is the study of how we acquire knowledge. We want to know. Our nature is curiosity. Information is also necessary for life. "What we don't know can't hurt us" is not true. The Catholic Church of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries held the Bible back from what they referred to as the "laymen" because they were convinced the laymen could not handle the truth (i.e. information). Besides the class bias, they neglected the idea that when exposed to information, people would become more than just "laymen." When we know things, it is formative to a worldview. 
     I know that God is real. In light of that fact (information), I believe in an absolute moral standard, prescribed by Him. If I thought God did not exist, I would have to cast about, looking for a different place to stand ethics on. But information, and the proving of it, presupposes our whole worldviews. They have to be based on propositional statements, because otherwise we would only have our feelings to go on, and those change. The library, for better or worse, is a storehouse of ideas and information. Yes, that means Nietzsche and Freud and evil things will be there. But that also means Augustine, Shakespeare, Luther, Austen, Lewis and more will take up their residence in long hallways of paper and binding. 
     But the library contains both. It cannot only contain good. To start, not everyone, even Christians, agree on what is "good" reading material and what is "bad." Much less a more than likely secular institution. (When was the last time you heard of a Christian library?) Not only does it show that Christians have seriously messed up for libraries to be primarily in the hands of the culture, it also highlights the fact that wherever we go, there are going to be materials we may not like. But we choose how to use them. 
     Imagine you were a soldier in a war. You found an enemy handbook. You would not follow the instructions inside it. You would not start killing your friends and allies and wearing a new uniform and using their codes. You would take it back to your commanders and use it to help understand the enemies' tactics and hack their communications. And whether we like it or not, there is a war going on. It is a war for the hearts and minds of people. And in this war, our weapons are not guns or bombs or tanks. Our weapons are stories, words, and books. Stories and words are primarily found in books. The Internet will never be the same thing. 
     And even though the Internet is a phenomenal tool and resource, and Google can give a thousand answers, a librarian or a library can give you the right one. Precision is key. When we start to rely upon only ourselves and our magic researcher tool the information means almost nothing. Information is never unbiased. That seems to lend itself to using the Internet, as the information found in online dictionaries and encyclopedias tends to be objective and empirical. However, we have some certain presuppositions we bring to "unbiased." We would like to think that unbiased has no worldview. If, however, we hold to a Christian worldview, it proclaims itself to be true, to the exclusion of other systems of thought. A truly unbiased system of information would base itself upon Christianity. Any system claiming to be unbiased not only lies, but also takes upon itself to do the impossible. So biased is a good thing. Something to be handled, inspected, and turned over. There is no better place for this than the library. 
      And the library is free. Free to all the people. We have Benjamin Franklin to thank for that. While college libraries may have superior materials, the point is that the laymen from above are broken free from their laymeninity. (Laymeness? Laymenism?) The entire point of the library is not just to entertain them, to help them, it is to bring them out of the cave. Plato made an excellent point in his allegory of the Cave. The philosophers bring the ignorant out of their cave, from their perceptions of reality, to true reality. He didn't elaborate on the tools. Reading is that tool. Literacy is power. When we read, we exercise our brains, think analytically, and are ready to interface with reality. And reading's home is the library. As Jorge Louis Borges said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."
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