In China, around 213 BC, there was a mass burning of historical and philosophical texts which was ordered by Emperor Qin Shi Huang. In Germany, 1933, indoctrinated students burned books to eradicate the “un-German spirit.” In 2015, libraries in Mosul, Iraq were burned under the ISIS regime. These are just a few examples of how eradicating access to information is used to control populations of people by tyrannical authorities.
Books contain the most important information ever recorded on the planet and are a universally recognized way to share ideas. For example, historical accounts written in books give insight into ancient cultures, medical journals save lives, and religious texts unite groups of people. Recreational literature exposes hidden common aspects of humanity- the emotions and experiences everyone shares, regardless of nationality.
There are 16, 5681 public libraries in America- this number is higher than the number of McDonald’s2 restaurants in the country. Being able to freely walk into a building and educate oneself is empowering. This is one of the greatest liberties afforded to citizens in free countries. Libraries may not be on your radar of important social programs, but I implore you to visit your local library soon. Everyone is welcome at the library- even people without a library card.
In the library, anyone can learn more by reading books on the topic of their choice. Victims of domestic violence can read accounts of others’ struggles and begin to heal. A child in a broken home can find hope by reading books about kids in the same situation. Parents have access to early literacy materials to jumpstart their child’s learning journey. The average American citizen may not think about libraries’ roles in “everyday life”, but those who are not free only dream of such a luxury.
Accessing information on a whim is something many of us living in America may take for granted. We might not necessarily appreciate being inundated by tabloids, newspapers, or news outlets available on the internet today, but there are many countries in the world whose governments censor all information. In 2019, the top 10 most censored countries were: Turkmenistan, North Korea, Eritrea, China, Vietnam, Sudan, Syria, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, and Laos, according to www.rsf.org. Keep in mind, these rankings reflect the most oppressive governments in the world. Campaigning for the idea of “free speech” is a jailable or executable offense in some of these countries.
Libraries in free countries are well-springs of idea-sharing and they should not be taken for granted. During some of the darkest moments in history, tyrannical governments understood how powerful knowledge truly was. They burned books and restricted the flow of information to control their subjects. Millions of people around the world today are deprived of even the simplest information because of government control. In America, we are very fortunate to have free public libraries that welcome everyone. The next time you see a sign on the street that points to the library, stop in and appreciate your freedom.