This brief essay will reveal the reasons why Anarchists are interested in preserving public libraries and how public libraries currently operate under some anarchist principles and practices.
Public libraries emerged at a time when the development of new technologies- such as the printing press, the moveable type, paper, ink, publishing and distribution, along with increased literacy – laid the ground work for the birth of radical new ideas and revolutions we now call the enlightenment.
The first public library was established in 1425, and according to Mathew Battles in his book, Library: An Unquiet History , “It was in these years of class conflict and economic terror that the public library movement swept through Britain.” Knowledge and information should be accessible to all, for free, and that ideas are not the private property of the elite or even those who created the idea. Even new ideas stand on the shoulders of previous generations. Knowledge is the fruit of the social arena itself and should be available to all.
It is this principle that Anarchists wish to develop in all areas of social life, that is to say, we want to make more parts of society governed under similar principles as the library. The necessities of life, like food and shelter, are not the private property of the few but the products of the labors of society as a whole. They belong to no one; they belong to everyone.
This is why we desire the public libraries to remain open and for their principles to expand beyond information sharing and into other parts of social life. There indeed is Anarchy in the Library.
The same “economic terror” that produced the libraries in the 1400’s now threatens to close 14 of the 18 public libraries here in Oakland. Look at the failures of the city to provide the most essential parts of having a literate and educated community; the closing of the libraries and the disintegration of the public education system – these are the true priorities of any metropolis.
This is why we say “Austerity means class war.”