Compiled by Nancy Kranich
“All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.” Alfred Emanuel Smith (1873–1944), American politician; presidential candidate in 1928, from a speech in Albany, 27 June 1933. Quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations,edited by Antony Jay (Oxford University Press: New York, 1996)
“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassinations from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899–1977) From Great Books. Quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations,edited by Antony Jay (Oxford University Press: New York, 1996)
“Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens.” William Henry Beveridge (1897–1963), British Economist, From Full Employment in a Free Society(1944), Quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations,edited by Antony Jay (Oxford University Press: New York, 1996)
“Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix.” Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), from Plain Speaking, Merle Miller. Quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations, edited by Antony Jay (Oxford University Press: New York, 1996)
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right. . . and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, and indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.” John Adams (1735–1826), from A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765). Quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations,edited by Antony Jay (Oxford University Press: New York, 1996)
“But information and data-processing instrumentation are not independent or autonomous elements in society. How, and for what purposes, they are employed constitute essential and defining features of the social order. In the case of information, two dramatically different ways of using it can be imagined. One is to regard information as a social good and a central element in the development and creation of a democratic society. Under this premise, information serves to facilitate democratic decision making, assists citizen participation in government, and contributes to the search for roughly egalitarian measures in the economy at large. Comprehensive and well-organized information enables decision makers to make rational resource allocation decisions; to prioritize social claims; to maximize social welfare. It allows them to overcome baleful practices that harm the general welfare, like pollution, smoking, and armaments production. Such information resources allow leaders to promote the development of science and invention that are socially beneficial and to organize historical experience for meaningful contemporary reflection and use. In brief, comprehensive, well-organized public information enables decision makers to bring past knowledge and experience to bear on current issues and problems.” Schiller, Herbert. Information Inequality. New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 35.
“Democracy depends on an informed population. And where can people get all the information they need? —At the Library.” Elliot Shelkrot, (Media Talk videotape)
“As far back as 1815, Jesse Torrey drew upon the tradition of George Washington, Benjamin Rush, and Samuel Adams when he spoke for a ‘cause consecrated by religion and enjoined by patriotism,’ the ‘universal dissemination of knowledge and virtue by mean of free public libraries.” In The Intellectual Torch(1815; reprinted Woodstock, VT, Elm Tree Press, 1912.) Cited in Sidney Ditzion, Arsenals of a Democratic Culture, (Chicago, IL: ALA, 1947): p. 58–9.
“ . . . democratic forms and their enunciation in speech and writing had a function far more positive than the defense of entrenched custom or privilege. Their most legitimate use was to carry forward and insure maximum operation of the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Having made a complete break with the oppressions and injustices of the old world, the people, in whom the power now resided, must equip themselves “properly to decide the many social and political questions they are frequently called upon to solve.” Where every individual thought and deed affected the social mechanism of the whole, it became the interest of the whole to provide the necessary education for its parts. The primary recognition of this seems to have resulted in early support of state libraries—and indeed the Library of Congress itself; adequate sources of information would assure the framing of good legislation. Provision for libraries in the constitutions of territorial governments probably stemmed from the same basic need.
The very fact that all vital political decision rested with the voters either directly or through their representatives made it more urgent that we create a responsible citizenry; for any weaknesses in the bulwark of democracy would permit reactionary ideas to gain inroads into our institutions. Differences of opinion, which of necessity must arise in a complex society such as ours, had to be ironed out with intelligence and knowledge which books could help provide; the diffusion of intelligence would offset the activities of secret foes who sought to weaken the foundations of our system. As truly as Daniel Webster had called the little red school house the ‘sentry box of American liberty,’ so could the public libraries be called the ‘Arsenals of American Liberty.” (Quoted from Uxbridge, MA Public Library, Proceedings of the Dedication of the Thayer Memorial Building,Uxbridge, MA (Uxbridge, Compendium Stem Printing Works, 1896), p. 25–26. Cited in Sidney Ditzion, Arsenals of a Democratic Culture, (Chicago, IL: ALA, 1947): p. 65–66.
“The logic which had operated so advantageously for the protagonists of publicly supported and controlled schools was recalled to action for the free library; viz., it was at once the obligation and protection of the state to have an informed body of present voters and future leaders. . . . The public library was a natural supplement to the common school in the realm of popular culture; it was a substitute for the town hall in the realm of political education.”
(New Bedford Free Public Library, Ninth Annual Report, 1961, p. 6–7.) Cited in Sidney Ditzion, Arsenals of a Democratic Culture, (Chicago, IL: ALA, 1947): p. 66.
“ . . . One function of the librarian, as he saw it, was to blunt the edge of these differences and to provide a means whereby the rich and poor could live happily side by side. The public library was a great leveler, supplying a literature by which the ordinary man could experience some of the pleasures of the rich, and providing a common ground where employer and employee could meet on equal terms.” (Remarks by Lewis H. Steiner on Library Branches, Newark Public library Opening Exercises. Oct. 16, 1889). Cited in Sidney Ditzion, Arsenals of a Democratic Culture, (Chicago, IL: ALA, 1947): p. 73.
“The major ideological currents of this period (late 19th century) were directed toward producing a unified nation based on the free informed choice of individuals rather than on measures of indoctrination in behalf of any particular group. As it happened there was a fairly close identity among the requirements of national prosperity, the needs of the new dominant industrial middle class, and the tenets of flourishing individualistic philosophies. Divisive tendencies, having their origins in prejudices of race, section, nationality, creed and class, were present indeed. It was hoped that these could be eased, or perhaps erased, by establishing agencies of enlightenment for adult and youth alike.” Cited in Sidney Ditzion, Arsenals of a Democratic Culture, (Chicago, IL: ALA, 1947): p. 75–76.
“Contemporary political theorists continue this type of thinking about democracy by arguing that the development of “public judgment” among regular citizens should be made the central concern of modern politics. Public judgment, in the words of Benjamin Barber, is a “function of commonality that can be exercised only by citizens interacting with one another in the context of mutual deliberation and decision.” . . . Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 4–5
“ . . . A democratic public forms when citizens gather together to deliberate and make public judgments about local and national issues that affect their lives. By associating together for public discussion, citizens learn the skills necessary for the health of a democratic public; listening persuading, arguing, compromising, and seeking common ground. When these skills are nurtured within the institutions of a democratic public, citizens educate themselves in order to make informed political decisions.” Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 4–5.
“There are a number of ways one could address the concerns of the public library community with the broader context of a democratic political system. As the public storehouse of knowledge, the public library can be viewed as a free society’s insurance that all ideas will be accessible to everyone who may want them. Ideas and information are certainly available elsewhere, but no other agency or organization can guarantee such a wide accessibility to ideas of all kinds that will be free of charge to all its customers. As several authors have pointed out, private media have their own agendas, which usually involve disseminating only those ideas that are popular, sensational, or can be fit neatly into a thirty-second sound bite. As a result, private media often do not provide the kind of in-depth and comprehensive access to all ideas that can be found in a public library. Without this kind of accessibility provided somewhere within society, the danger of tyranny increases. The importance of the public library, then, lies in its availability somewhere within society as that society’s last defense against the possibilities of oppression.” Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 106.
“From these activists we can learn a crucial lesson: without citizens creating the institutions necessary for facilitating the growth of public deliberation, democracy will be a meaningless term. Without political leaders articulating this idea and acting upon it, public life and citizenship will continue to stagnate.” Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 134.
“ . . . .the library serves democracy by providing a neutral forum in which all types of information and all points of view find equal voice. Quoting Patricia Wilson Berger “On My Mind: What I learned.” American Libraries, 22: 100–2.
Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 285.
“Censorship is alive, well, and thriving in many of America’s schools and libraries. How can we reinforce the fundamental tenet that censorship is just plain unAmerican, that it erodes the freedoms the Constitution guarantees, and that it is inimical to our democratic Republic? When censors are not convinced by either our arguments or the record of our history as a free people then how can we frustrate and deter their efforts without shutting off their right to free speech.” Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 101.
Thomas Jefferson has been cited in establishing the link between literacy and democracy: “Illiteracy is no less than a threat to our national security. Thomas Jefferson underscored the importance of literacy when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p.299.
“ . . . At the 1894 ALA conference it was fairly well agreed that the primary goal of the public library must be to teach good citizenship. Libraries recognized that such “Americanization” could be achieved through literacy. Thus, teaching immigrants to read was not just a benefit in and of itself; literacy would also serve the interests of democracy.” Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), p. 299.
“The lesson I learned then was that if citizens are to make informed decisions in a democracy, and further, if they are to have the accurate needed to influence the decisions which affect their lives and those of others—to take advantage of their right to know—they need assistance through a maze of resources.” Durrance, Joan. Armed for Action. (NY: Neal-Schuman, 1984), p. xi.
“. . . many policy observers believe that there is a crisis in citizen participation. Approximately half of the eligible voters voted in the most recent presidential election; far fewer vote in local elections and often less than 10 percent of the voters may participate in primary elections. Mechanisms designed to educate and inform citizens about the issues that are of concern to them and to increase citizen knowledge of governmental processes should be used in local communities. Meetings, forums, and workshops can be held that are jointly sponsored by several groups such as a public library, a college or university, a government agency and several local citizen groups. The involvement of citizen groups is important because they have high credibility among their constituent groups. These forums could be public policy issue oriented—public forums on nuclear energy, education issues, taxation or toxic wastes—and include how to obtain information on a specific public policy issue. Forums might also be developed around the political process or governmental structure with which a citizen must interact if concerned with a particular problem.” Durrance, Joan. Armed for Action. (NY: Neal-Schuman, 1984), p. 159
“Recent studies in citizen participation have shown that it is often difficult for citizens to obtain the information necessary to influence the decisions made on public policy problems and issues, particularly at the local level. Yet at the same time, local, state and federal agencies are mandated to include citizen opinion in decision making. Citizen opinion in mandated participation is most often sought too late to obtain anything but approval from ignorance or obnoxious opposition. Only informed citizens can be active participants in the decision-making process. If we assume that citizens have difficulty in obtaining some of the information they need to become informed citizens, and if we further assume that one of the mandates of the public library is to develop an informed citizenry, they the library needs to bear some responsibility for increasing citizen access to the public policy information that is difficult to obtain.
Public libraries can play a role in increasing the access of citizens to vital public policy information. They employ more information specialists—professionals who are trained to find, organize and dis (p. 138) seminate information—than any other agency of local government. However, before public libraries can assume a meaningful role in the process, they must understand the problems that citizens face in gaining access to information that exists in communities. The Citizen Group Information Study sheds some light on the access problem. Of course libraries that plan to provide public policy information service need to know the types of information that citizen group leaders look for and where they go to obtain information. However, the key to providing greater access to public policy information cannot be found without knowledge of the barriers to access that are presently encountered by those who seek to participate in community decision making.” Durrance, Joan. Armed for Action. (NY: Neal-Schuman, 1984), p. 137–8.
“ . . . new possibilities for a more active democracy are beginning to emerge in the information age. Effective citizen action is possible if citizens develop the abilities to gain access to information of all kinds and the skills to put such information to effective use.” Harry C. Boyte. CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. (New York: The Free Press, 1989.) p. 5
“As knowledge becomes increasingly a source of power, the struggle regarding its accessibility and use becomes more and more central to democracy. The success of contemporary citizen activism in a variety of contexts depends upon the ability to ferret out key information, often against the efforts of powerful interests to restrict information access. From the parent who worries about local school dropout rates to the rancher fighting to preserve the open range from energy conglomerates, from community activists organizing around toxic waste to small businesspeople trying to increase the pool of resources available in their areas for entrepreneurial start-up projects, people need information to act. They also need “knowledge”—the organizational and communicative skills to organize. Studies of grass-roots leaders have found that the most successful have developed considerable talents at gaining access to information and to the organizing skills that facilitate action.” Harry C. Boyte. CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. (New York: The Free Press, 1989), p. 10–11
“ . . . In effective, sustained citizen action, people learn the skills of public life with which to act effectively. “Commons,” or the common wealth—the public goods that are objects of sustainable public action—become not only occasions for collaboration by invaluable sources of citizen education in their own right because they are the occasions for learning such skills.” Harry C. Boyte. CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. (New York: The Free Press, 1989), p. 149.
“ . . . It highlights the disenfranchisement of the citizenry from the foundations of public knowledge, from information to skills to concepts essential for coping effectively with a fast-changing world, and the need to create ways to address the problem. A dynamic education for democracy and citizenship must take place in many settings in our society, and not simply in formal educational institutions or large-scale citizen groups. In the coming years we need to experiment with a variety of new public forums, instruments, civic resource centers, and community commons through which the basic concepts and arts of public life can be relearned by the citizenry.” Harry C. Boyte. CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics. (New York: The Free Press, 1989), p. 156.
“Alliances are crucial to success in the political sphere. However, if we are to approach other organizations to propose alliances for the public good, we must be prepared to assert a far more important role for the library. We must clearly define what we do and establish and assert the relationship of libraries to basic democratic freedoms, to the fundamental humanistic principles that are central to our very way of life. . . .” Arthur Curley, “Toward a Broader Definition of the Public Good,” in Libraries, Coalitions and the Public Good(New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1987), p. 37.
“ . . . We want and believe we must have a society in which democratic freedoms, such as the right of access to information, are safeguarded and guaranteed. We believe this, because, among other reasons, libraries need such a framework in order to function effectively. It is therefore the mission and purpose of the library to support those principles not just within individual libraries but in our society. If people are not free to associate; to gain access to neighborhoods, business establishments, or places of entertainment; if they can not buy a house because of their color or religion; all these restrictions have a deep and direct bearing on the way libraries operate in a democratic society.” Arthur Curley, “Toward a Broader Definition of the Public Good,” in Libraries, Coalitions and the Public Good(New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1987), p. 38.
“When the function of libraries is put in terms of their contributions to the community, people see their centrality. The challenge to us is to continue to help them see it in those terms to describe our larger purposes. We must assert that libraries are central to the quality of life in our society; that libraries have a direct role in preserving democratic freedoms. Free access to information and the opportunity of every individual to improve his or her mind, employment prospects, and lifestyle are fundamental rights in our society.” Arthur Curley, “Toward a Broader Definition of the Public Good,” in Libraries, Coalitions and the Public Good(New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1987), p. 41.
“All libraries are civilizing agencies in society. In the continuing struggle to establish and maintain democratic values, free public libraries are essential for providing information and knowledge, enhancing individual growth, easing the transition from youth to maturity, and setting people on the road to wisdom. Our society has faith in reading as a Good Thing that leads to desirable ends, and it believes reading has the power to alter people for the better.
In a democratic society, the free public library also has a civic aim. It offers citizens the means by which they may become informed and intelligent citizens. Thomas Jefferson believed that the establishment of a small circulating library in every county would be of great value in creating a well-informed citizenry. Where the people have the responsibility for electing public officials, and in our era the additional one of voting on weighty referenda, it becomes imperative that they vote from knowledge, not ignorance.
In implementing the civic aim of the free public library, librarians have the duty to provide as many points of view as possible on current issues. It is not for the library to tell people how to vote, or what opinions to hold on current issues; rather it is up to them to provide a range of views on these issues so that people may make up their own minds about where they stand on issues. William Eshelman, “Serving the Public Good: Coalitions for Free Library Services,” in Libraries, Coalitions and the Public Good(New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1987), p. 103–104.
“If information is the currency of democracy, then libraries are its banks.” Senator Wendell Ford, 1998 ALA Annual Conference
“They seem to recognize what too many of our own leaders do not: If the people are denied maximum access to the currency of information, then democracy is not only devalued, it is damaged.” Paul McMasters “Access and technology: Change as an excuse for closure,” First Amendment Ombudsman(Roslyn, VA: The Freedom Forum, 3/13/2000)
“In our country's first year of war, we have seen the growing power of books as weapons. . . ”
“This is proper, for a war of ideas can no more be won without books than a naval war can be won without ships. Books, like ships, have the toughest armor, the longest cruising range, and mount the most powerful guns. I hope that all who write and publish and sell and administer books will. . . rededicate themselves to the single task of arming the mind and spirit of the American people with the strongest and most enduring weapons.”
“Libraries are directly and immediately involved in the conflict which divides the world, and for two reasons; first, because they are essential to the functioning of a democratic society; second, because the contemporary conflict touches the integrity of scholarship, the freedom of the mind, and even the survival of culture, and libraries are the great symbols of the freedom of the mind.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cited by Ditzion, Sidney, Arsenals of a Democratic Culture(Chicago, ALA: 1957) p. v.
“To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past so that can gain in judgment in creating their own future. Among democracies, I think through all the recorded history of the world, the building of permanent institutions like libraries and museums for the use of all the people flourishes. And that is
especially true in our own land, because we believe that people ought to work out for themselves, and through their own study, the determination of their best interest rather than accept such so-called information as may be handed out to them by certain types of self-constituted leaders who decide what is best for them.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Public Papers and Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” compiled with special material and explanatory notes by Samuel I. Rosenman (Harper & Brothers Publishers: New York, 1950), p. 248
“The library is central to our free society. It is a critical element in the free exchange of information at the heart of our democracy.”
“. . . the library’s mission statement lays out our task quite clearly: ‘the New York Public Library is one of the cornerstones of the American tradition of equal opportunity. It provides free and open access to the accumulated wisdom of the world, without distinction as to income, religion, nationality, or other human condition. . . . It guarantees freedom of information and independence of thought. . . . It helps ensure the free trade in ideas and the right of dissent. . . .’”
“One of my greatest sources of pride as president of the New York Public Library is the continuance of the library’s open, free, and democratic posture, the fact that we are here for Everyman, that we are indeed Everyman’s university, the place where the scholar who is not college-affiliated can come and work and feel at home.” —Vartan Gregorian from In Praise of Libraries (New York University Press, Washington Square: New York, 1989), pp.71–72.
“Our problem is not to censor, but to teach every young generation to think critically, for every community to support free public libraries, and to join in defending their librarians who make accessible as broad a spectrum of information as they can. Because modern technology has produced overwhelming floods of variegated words and images, more than ever, we depend on librarians. Librarians do not close the gates to what is contrary to conventional wisdom. Instead, they respect contrarian desires of individuals, they help guide each citizen through the growing jungle of words and images to what that citizen seeks. But when given the opportunity, they also teach the young how to search for what the judgement of time and experience have proven to be as close to truth and beauty as human discernment can achieve.” Ben H. Bagdikian, From Speaking Out! Voices in Celebration of Intellectual Freedom by Ann K. Symons and Sally Gardner Reed (ALA: Chicago and London, 1999), p. 105.
“Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. . . . This faith may be enacted in statutes, but it is only on paper unless it is put in force in the attitudes which human beings display to one another in all the incidents and relations of daily life.”
“. . . everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sets and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life.”
John Dewey, from “Creative Democracy—the Task Before Us” in The Essential Dewey. Volume 1: Pragmatism, Education, Democracy edited by Larry A. Hickman and Thomas M. Alexander (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998) pp. 340–3.
“Regarded as an idea, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community life itself. It is an ideal in the only intelligible sense of an ideal: namely, the tendency and movement of some thing which exists carried to its final limit, viewed as completed, perfected. Since things do not attain such fulfillment but are in actuality distracted and interfered with, democracy in this sense is not a fact and never will be. But neither in this sense is there or has there ever been anything which is a community in its full measure, a community unalloyed by alien elements. The idea for ideal of a community presents, however, actual phases of associated life as they are freed from restrictive and disturbing elements, and are contemplated as having attained their limit of development. Wherever there is conjoint activity whose consequences are appreciated as good by all singular persons who take part in it, and where the realization of the good is such as to effect an energetic desire and effort to sustain it in being just because it is a good shared by all, there is in so far a community. The clear consciousness of a communal life, in all its implications, constitutes the idea of democracy.” John Dewey, from “Creative Democracy—the Task Before Us” in The Essential Dewey. Volume 1: Pragmatism, Education, Democracy edited by Larry A. Hickman and Thomas M. Alexander (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998) pp. 295.
“We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”—Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice, from The Morrow Book of Quotations in American History by Joseph R. Conlin (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1984) p. 48.
“All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.”—Alfred E. Smith (1873–1944) gov. of NY and Democratic Party Pres. Nominee, 1928, from The Morrow Book of Quotations in American History by Joseph R. Conlin (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1984) p. 268.
“Civil society is the place where Americans make their home, sustain their marriages, raise their families, hand out with their friends, meet their neighbors, educate their children, worship their god. It is the churches, schools, fraternities, community centers, labor unions, synagogues, sports leagues, PTAs, libraries and barber shops. It is where opinions are expressed and refined, where views are exchanged and agreements made, where a sense of common purpose and consensus are forged. It lies apart from the realms of the market and the government, and possesses a different ethic.” Senator Bill Bradley, Congressional Record, vol. 142, No. 141, p. 12244. Stated Thursday, October 3, 1996, 104th Congress 2nd Session .
“Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is our Nation's oldest national cultural institution and has become the largest repository of recorded knowledge in the world. It stands as a symbol of the vital connection between knowledge and democracy.” Senator Claiborne Pell, Congressional Record, vol. 142, No. 136, p. 11540. Stated Friday, September 27, 1996, 104th Congress 2nd Session .
“Freedom is found through the portals of our nation’s libraries.” David McCullough, Speech at the Library of Congress about his book on John Adams, aired on C-Span, June 10, 2001.