It was a bad day 30 years ago when some business management-type decided to restructure academic departments to be fiscally self-sustaining, economically independent.  In this scenario university libraries, a service-providing unit with no inherent money-generating capacity, would be held to the same standard as, say, microbiology with all its grant-overhead revenue generating potential.

Faddish ideas are hard to stop, even bad ones and so this conundrum has trickled down to our primary and secondary level of schooling too. But the model there remains inherently inappropriate; it can never be made to work.  Nevertheless in insisting on the impossible, that such departments “pull their own weight”, the standing of libraries has devolved to that of ‘frivolous luxury’, akin to nail-art salons or a car wash.

This is a really bad paradigm.  Libraries may be service-oriented, but the service they provide is fundamental support for the essentially solitary activity of learning.  While teachers may broker the ingredients necessary for learning, at the end of the day each and every pupil must do their very own hard work of incorporating new material into their understanding.  This requires nurturing the intellectual space of the pupil, to provide the support and safety necessary for that process of learning, the rearranging of one’s existing canon of knowledge into a novel set of explanatory connections.

And this is the true function of a library: it provides an atmosphere where ideas can be suspended long enough to permit rearrangement.  Libraries are the petrie dish of intellect and the information stored there provides the agar of learning.  But students themselves muster the work necessary to grow understanding.

Until it is clear that a library is the portal of learning, students will be without the means to accomplish their essential, lonely task.  Libraries are the common intellectual meeting ground of individualized learners.

Now infuse that scenario with the isolation of the immigrant’s experience.  That library becomes the embodiment of the hard task they face bootstrapping knowledge and understanding.  That library provides the means for their unbelievably difficult task, just literally and physically in the form of electronic equipment and other tools, but also spiritually in the form of language and information, there for those able to invest their hard work in the effort. That library is the very key to dispelling the immigrant’s disenfranchisement.  That library is a dream, sustaining the dream of Dreamers.

When we defund a school’s library, we dismantle the very capacity of the school to conduct its mission. Exterminating librarians defeats the purpose of school itself.  When the librarian leaves and the library is starved, we lose our very access to the sustenance of learning and knowledge.