Libraries Vs. Banks: The Old World Is In Our Way

17 Jun

Banks and libraries: they both borrow, and they both lend. A bank is like a library for money! And yet in many ways they are exactly opposed. A library appears as an immense collection of social wealth: books, knowledge, stories that are made by people, gathered together and available to anyone. A bank appears as an immense collection of personal wealth: money made by people, by the labor of working people, isolated into private accounts and gathered together only in the interest of the financial corporation.

A bank is the principle of the private. A library is the principle of the public. They exist at the two poles of the current social order. And in occupying these two poles, they provide a perfect diagram of the cruel sleight-of-hand called capitalism. There is not a single banker who would hesitate to sing the praises of libraries. There is also not a single banker who would hesitate before shutting a library’s doors if it couldn’t pay its debts. And in helping the library accrue those debts, we can be sure that the bank will have been most helpful, just as banks have so generously helped us accrue our own debts. The austerity that closes the libraries will help us into an even deeper hole; the bank and austerity are not so different. They work as a team to keep us trapped in the amber of debt, of privatization, of alienation. They are an image of the present in its gleaming tatters.

And so we have come to the banks in Oakland, as that city closes fourteen of its eighteen libraries. If every bank becomes a library, this will be a fine thing.  But we do not come to fight a rearguard action against the state’s withdrawal from the sharing business, to say we prefer lending books to lending money. That much is obvious. Those who have held a book know well enough that it can be a weapon. We are interested in the living society of which libraries are an image: not divided along lines of public and private, but one that is collective, shared.

There is something old-fashioned about the library. It is a remnant from a time when the economy could support a few pockets of sharing. Neither capital nor its robber barons can afford such old-fashioned nonsense now. There is no going back. But there is something about a library that is also an image from the future, when the community, the city, the world is a collective enterprise. We are here for that future. The banks are in our way.

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