Quoted: Jeff Chang on Libraries and “Our Collective Imagination”

I love libraries and I vote

Enter the collectors, the hipsters, and the DJs. Their rediscovery of musical heritage is a cyclical phenomenon made possible by the deletion of massive amounts of culture. A process we seen repeatedly occurring in Black music, for instance, from the blues to free jazz to funk to disco to hip-hop.

Revivals are what happen at the point where the margin of the marketplace meets the bleeding-edge of hipsterism. It’s lots of fun, but it can also lead to decontextualization and erasure. Where do sagging jeans come from, right? In the cultural economy, in other words, history itself can be deleted.

So on the one hand, you have the market failure that occurs when companies choose to delete records or stop circulating records that have historical or creative importance, music that embodies our human story or music that helps seed new creativity.

Because of market failure, you can’t get De La Soul’s first four albums on iTunes. Nor can you get most of Biz Markie’s albums. You can’t get the complete Def Jam-era Public Enemy boxset Chuck D and the crew put together almost a decade ago. [...]

When I go into a library, I don’t have to worry about who is holding whose copyrights, why this book didn’t sell enough to continue to be available in any marketplace, how many other stories there are out there that I am missing because the storytellers don’t have the money or the property rights to tell them.

In the library, I am in a space beyond the marketplace, beyond consumption, beyond the money censors, beyond the noise. I am in a place where librarians have accumulated the knowledge and the stories important to me and my community.

The library is the embodiment and the refuge of our collective imagination. In the library, we learn just how big and full of possibility the world is and we build the kindling to fuel our creative fires and to change our culture.

—Jeff Chang, “In Defense of Libraries,” a talk given at a rally to save Oakland’s Public Libraries

  • Gillian

    I’ve been a regular library patron since I was a kid. My dad and mom made sure my siblings and I made regular use of the library. Since then, in every city I’ve lived in, one of the first things I’ve done after relocating is get a library card. In the past year – mostly as a way to save cash – I have been patronizing my local library more than I have in the past. As my work hours have been reduced, I’ve been spending more time at my local library, and it’s brought home to me the important role libraries play in communities. They are part of the lifeblood of communities, and, as Jeff so eloquently said, “the embodiment and the refuge of our collective imagination.” 

    So, it irks me that local governments often jump to decrease library hours and services in tough economic times – when citizens most need them. We are struggling enough without having an important part of community life taken away.