The man who hates libraries

What the …..???


From a suburban Chicago newspaper comes this startling story, about a library under fire, and certain well-to-do citizens who simply don’t see the point of publicly funded libraries:

Telling her mother that she wanted to come to the aid of a library under attack, 11-year-old Sydney Sabbagha stood at the podium before the Oak Brook village board.

“I used to go to the library knowing there were people there to help me find a book. Now there is no one to help me,” Sydney said solemnly. “It will never be the same without the people you fired.”

Sydney nestled back into her seat, but that didn’t stop 69-year-old criminal attorney Constantine “Connie” Xinos from boldly putting her in her place.

“Those who come up here with tears in their eyes talking about the library, put your money where your mouth is,” Xinos shot back. He told Sydney and others who spoke against the layoffs of the three full-time staffers (including the head librarian and children’s librarian) and two part-timers to stop “whining” and raise the money themselves.

“I don’t care that you guys miss the librarian, and she was nice, and she helped you find books,” Xinos told them.

“Don’t cry crocodile tears about people who are making $100,000 a year wiping tables and putting the books back on the shelves,” Xinos smirked, apparently referencing the fired head librarian, who has advanced degrees and made $98,676 a year. He said Oak Brook had to “stop indulging people in their hobbies” and “their little, personal, private wants.”

Leave aside the fact this man Xinos sounds like a rather unpleasant fellow who gets a kick out of making little girls cry.  Leave aside, too, the debate over how a community should spend its tax dollars.  What struck me, while reading this article (and a few of the comments that follow it) is how little some people value the public library  — or even the idea of a public library.  One person in the comments section feels that kids hardly need libraries these days:

It seems that this library is more of a social gathering place than a source of knowledge. Who here thinks that there are even 20 homes in OakBrook without the Internet, which is what most students and individuals use now for research?

Would you be so upset if the town decided not to have public tennis courts and swimming pool? Most people in OB who want those facilities can pay for their own, or join a club. Why not make libraries prove their own worth in the same way health clubs do? Why force people who don’t use it to pay for it?  (from “City Resident”)

And another person chimes in:

With the internet along with every school having a library, is there really the need for libraries anymore? At least, does EVERY town need one? Can’t one library serve a handful of towns.  (from “rightwinger”)

Libraries, according to these folks, are a waste of public resources.  Why, they’re just like country clubs, and only the folks who actually use them should have to pay for them.  Make every kid who wants to borrow a book from the library dig the money out of his own pocket. And if they don’t want to pay up, then they should just go online, because everything you’ll ever need to know (whether true, false, or just plain worthless) is available on the internet.  And if you’re too poor to own a computer or have internet access, tough luck. Where in the Constitution does it list the “right to information”? 

Good god, how our values as a country have changed when people today, in all seriousness, can equate kids using a public library with rich folks belonging to a tennis club. The idea of a library as merely a place to indulge one’s hobbies or one’s “little, personal, private wants” is not something I would have heard when I was a kid growing up in California. That was the post-Sputnik era, when educating American children became our national mission, when a President could announce, “We’re going to put a man on the moon” — and it would happen.  In those days, libraries weren’t considered amusement halls for hobbyists.  They were outposts of knowledge, accessible by anyone regardless of age, wealth, or race.  

And access it I did.  Some of my best childhood memories are of combing the stacks at the Serra Mesa branch of the Public Library in San Diego, searching for the latest Nancy Drew mysteries. Twice a week, my mom would drop me off there, and I’d come home with a fresh armload of books.  I brought home mysteries and adventure novels, science books about dinosaurs and space travel.  I felt welcomed there, by ladies (back then, all the librarians seemed to be ladies) who always seemed delighted that I was back for more.  In those days, America didn’t consider public libraries a luxury; they were considered a national necessity, for feeding our brains, educating the populace, and moving the country forward.  We all seemed to agree that knowledge is power, and knowledge was how America would discover new cures and put a man on the moon. 

The ancient world certainly understood the importance of libraries.  The great library of Alexandria was not just a repository of scrolls and historical documents; it was also a place where thinking men gathered to exchange ideas and test theories, a center of scholarship for mathematics, physics, and the natural sciences.  

Fast forward to today, when some American communities — even affluent ones — now question the need for public libraries at all.  Rich people don’t need them because they can just drive to Barnes and Noble and buy the latest Dan Brown novel.  Poor people don’t pay taxes, so why should they benefit from a library that they don’t contribute money to? Wouldn’t our tax dollars be better spent on a new sports stadium that everyone can benefit from? (Except for those aforementioned poor people who can’t afford the price of a ticket.)

When I read articles like the above, I feel sick.  I feel that the values I grew up with — a respect for education and knowledge and science — is quickly vanishing from this country.  If we shut out brilliant but impoverished children from access to information, where will our future NASA engineers like Homer Hickam come from? Are we writing off the future of another budding scientist from a poor coal mining town?  

Those of us who love books, whose lives are enriched by books, know that the internet is no substitute as a source of information.  Only a fool would claim otherwise.

Alas, the fools seem to be taking over.


30 thoughts on “The man who hates libraries

  1. Vicky McAulay

    I agree, here in Ottawa, Can. there’s been much debate over the need to build a new downtown library and the cost to the taxpayer. What’s the cost in the long term of leaving our children without access to the knowledge and creativity found in books? It seems to be the Marie Antoinette perspective on the world-if they can’t afford to pay for library usage, let them use the internet. There’s a growing disconnect between the haves and the havenots. Fortunately, our new library is going ahead. Love the dog pic.

  2. Alafair Burke

    The irony, of course, is that these comments probably come from the same people who don’t trust schools for much either, but suddenly schools (and apparently, God help us, the Internet) are the only places where children need to learn anything anymore. We don’t trust government for anything, but parents hoping to improve and supplement their children’s education at night and on weekends are whiners who want taxpayers to subsidize their little personal, private hobbies. It doesn’t bode well for our future.

  3. JD Rhoades

    Where in the Constitution does it list the "right to information"?

    I’ve always said that just because something is bad policy does not make it unconstitutional. But the converse of that is that just because something is not explicitly provided for in the Constitution doesn’t make it bad policy.

  4. billie

    That is very sad. I loved the library when I was young, and worked in three different university libraries when I was in college. I just went last week to our little local library to get my son a copy of Animal Farm to read for a lit class he’s taking. And found a brand new copy of a current fiction book I was wanting to read. I can’t imagine a town without a library.

  5. Jake Nantz

    I wish I’d been that child’s father. I get so sick of the over-educated and therefore self-righteous assholes of this world who don’t have the first damn clue what deficiencies many of today’s youth have to deal with. They can’t sit down and talk with the people who see where this country is headed because the silver spoon jammed in their ass makes it uncomfortable. I see a lot of places today where we are bending over backwards for people who do nothing but take advantage of it, but that ain’t happening in the libraries. Libraries are a place where someone can use a computer if they don’t have one at home. They can VERIFY the research they’ve found on the internet to make sure it’s legitimate, and oh yeah, they can also sit for hours and expand their minds and vocabulary by reading (something more of the world needs to do and less is currently doing).

    I’d say Mr. "Connie" Xinos is in desperate need of a reality check to return to him some of the humility he’s so obviously discarded along the way.

    And a good solid ass-whippin’

  6. Dana King

    This is more the face of America than most of us would like to admit. We have become a nation that knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Anyone who can’t afford whatever they want is lazy.

    I was fairly conservative as a young man. Now I’m 53, and I’m a little more of a Socialist every day.

  7. Alli

    We have become a nation that knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. – Dana, it is sad as to how true those words are.

    This article literally made me cry. I have the most amazing memories from spending times in libraries as a kid, arms full of books, a big smile on my face and the anticipation of wonderful hours ahead of me making new discoveries.

    I take my toddler and pre-schooler to weekly library readings aimed at their age group and they just love it. They love the story time with other kids, the chance to go and pick their own books and reading their discoveries before lights out. My heart would break if the chance to learn and discover in such a special place was taken away from them.

    Tess, thank you for this post. Although I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face, it is good we know about these things so we can hopefully find a solution and change the attitude of the small number of elitists who have no idea what precious experiences and amazing futures they would be destroying.

  8. Bobbie

    I live near Oak Brook, and just came across an article about this jerk. After the meeting, a reporter told him he’d left the little girl in tears. Xinos’ response? "I wanted that kid to lose sleep that night." He also fought (and won) to keep subsidized senior housing out of Oak Brook, and said, "I don’t want to live next to poor people. I don’t want poor people in my town." The guy is clearly an ass in the greatest sense of the word.

    I’d like to believe he’s in the minority, but he obviously has support or you wouldn’t have privileged idiots writing in to second his opinion–and the senior center would have made it into his town.

    Our local library was just completely rebuilt in 2007, and I take my kids there at least once or twice a week. It has huge support in our community. I rarely went to the library as a child b/c my family owned a bookstore. Who needed a library if you could own the book, right? And then I went to college and was completely clueless about how to even *use* a library.

    As with all issues such as this, we need to keep making *our* voices heard, and we need to keep taking our children to the library and to town meetings, and we need to believe we’re going to have an impact. And, yes, when libraries hold fundraisers, we who can afford to need to pitch in. The second we start thinking government at its worst and most despicable is capable of truly taking away what matters to us is the second we start accepting that they can. Like Alli said, as sad as stories like this make us, it’s vital to be aware of them so we can fight back for the sake of future generations.

    Thanks for the story and the post. I took my youngest to the library yesterday, but I think my older ones are due for a visit as well.

  9. Louise Ure

    As Bobbie noted above, the Xinos quotes you didn’t use are even worse. What a jerk. And what a sad case for the state of American thinking.

    I would be more depressed if I didn’t just love the picture at the top of your blog post, Tess.

  10. JD Rhoades

    I read the whole article, too.

    Jesus, what an asshole.

    He’d fit right in where I live. There was a letter a couple of years ago in the local newspaper where some Yankee dingbat wrote in that he didn’t see why he and his wife should have to pay local taxes to support the schools since he and his wife had already educated their children in New Jersey.

  11. tess gerritsen

    Re: the hilarious dog pic at the top. Isn’t it a hoot? I take no credit for it. I wish I knew who the photog is so I could give him credit, but I can’t even remember where I found the image.

  12. kit

    My older brother once said something that has stuck with me for over a quarter of a century…it’s pretty fitting here
    *I can hack poverty more than I can hack a fool,because poverty I can do something about.*

    It’s my personal feeling that America is being *dumbed down* enough, without foolish people like this adding to the noise of information pollution.
    I’ve benefitted from the public library system, both for research and pleasure…there is no way, I would be able to put a value on that knowledge, or the people that helped me find what I was looking for.
    There are what I call *open* and *closed* people…open people share knowledge, teach, guide and will take joy in sharing. Closed people hold their knowledge to themselves…either in arrogance,pride, foolishness or in some mistaken notion that it will be used against them.

    I read this blog…and immediately saw *red* if this isn’t coherent, could be why.

  13. Stephanie Weippert

    Restricting information is what oppressive governments do. Look at China. An informed public keeps those in power honest; anyone who wants to reduce society’s access to information needs to remember that fact.

  14. Sarah W

    Xinos represents the same kind of narrow-minded, short-sighted ignorant selfishness that is already beginning to bite this country in the rear.

    Don’t support tax increases to benefit public schools if you don’t have children—what do you care if our future workforce can’t read, write, do simple math, or have the decision-making skills necessary to do more than menial tasks, never mind directing their own lives.

    Don’t support libraries if you yourself have an Internet connection at home and can afford to buy books you’ll only read once, if at all—what do you care if the people who were suddenly downsized (possibly by your company?) because of the economy can’t afford a newspaper or an Internet connection to find jobs because they frivolously chose to feed their children instead—the same children who don’t need a decent education or access to the books the schools can no longer afford to provide.

    Don’t bother to invest in America’s future, and heaven forfend you take care of the elderly whose lives weren’t conducive to amassing great fortunes.

    America rose quickly from an upstart colony to a world power because it has always supported education for its people—not just in the basics, but in the humanities, the arts, and in critical judgment. Because we hung together, lest we were hanged separately.

    But Mr. Xinos, rest assured—when you’re old and neglected (except for sycophants whose only interest is your money), just ask your caregiver to call the library and set up homebound service for you.

    We’ll still be here.

  15. Rae

    Yes, the dude’s a jerk. And yes, I’d like a minute alone with him. And I’ve stopped reading newspapers or watching the news because of the 50-foot deep level of putrefaction that has become our public discourse.

    But before we lose all hope, let’s remember that there are many communities that value literacy and thoughtfulness and intelligence and good manners.

    I’m thinking in particular of Seattle, with their gorgeous public library and several delightful independent bookstores. The community in Northern Idaho where I hang out funds their library to the degree they can (they’re a blue collar mill town).

    There’s a lot that sucks, but there’s some good stuff hiding in the corners…

    Pollyanna 😉

  16. Pammy D

    I grew up down the road from Oak Brook. That town is one of the wealthiest of Chicago’s western suburbs. And they can’t afford librarians? What’s up with that?

  17. joe bernstein

    What an ass this guy is.In RI we have the CLAN system,which makes all local libraries accessible to all state residents.You need only one card.We use the nearby library in the next town-my granddaughter loves it-there are pet guinea pigs and fish and she gets to take out her "own" books and dvd’s(she’s almost 4)-she can socialize with other kids there and she knows all the librarians.
    Providence residents successfully fought a plan to shut down most branch libraries in the city.
    I used to live in Illinois,and as I recall Oakbrook was a very wealthy town,but that was 25 years ago,so I really don’t know.
    This lawyer sounds like a lot of lawyers-God forbid anyone keeping them from all their ill-gotten gains,but screw everyone else.
    Libraries are essential for many kids and seniors.In bad areas- sometimes its a place of respite to do homework,use a computer,or for older folks,a cool place in the summer heat.It sure is that way in the Providence neighborhood branch libraries.

  18. April Johnson

    Good God! All I can do is shake my head and be ASHAMED I’m from Chicago if that’s the kind of people there now!

  19. Jill James

    That is beyond sad. When I was a kid I can not even imagine my parents buying me a new book, except for Christmas or my birthday. That’s what libraries were for. And I’m sure there are just as many needy people out there now as there was then. Shame on Mr. Xinos and shame on his town for listening to him.

  20. BCB

    JD, I first read your response above as "Amen." ROFL! There are some excellent lawyers out there (I once worked for one) and I believe you are among their number.

    I read this article over the weekend and was stunned by Xinos’ anger. And for him to direct it at a child? Unforgivable. Made me wonder whether he had been married and perhaps his wife found the escape of novels preferable to his company. Something significant has to be fueling that degree of resentment.

    Several months ago the local branch of our county library was faced with closure due to budget cuts. There was such a huge demonstration of outrage and support that not only is it not closing, it has been approved for renovations. Which means it shut down (temporarily) as of yesterday and won’t re-open for a month. [sob] The next closest branch is ten minutes further away. Like that’s going to stop me. I’ll still be an active patron, once a week, same as always, exercising my unspecified non-constitutional right to information. Yeah, I’m such a rebel.

  21. iPod Accessories       

    I think that Library is a basic requirement in this town because of many of the books lovers. I believe that without knowledge and creativity nothing matters in person’s nature. I like the picture in the top of the blog it is too funny.

  22. joe bernstein

    Okay,okay-I know there are good lawyers,but unfortunately I’ve tended to run into really bad ones-take a simple thing and complicate it beyond recognition.
    I dealt with too many prosecutors who were more concerned about a guaranteed checkmark in the "win" column than taking a chance,with the result that some very bad people walked.
    I probably shouldn’t generalize too much.I’ve even met ethical used car salesmen.
    But this guy is the poster boy for the bad stereotype.Agreed?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *