Letters and Politics

New Hampshire Primary Debrief; A People’s History of the American Public Library

With Steve Phillips, author of the book Brown is the New White How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority. He is also a civil rights lawyer, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, and founder and chairperson of PowerPAC Plus.

And John Nichols, political correspondent at the Nation Magazine.

Then, a conversation about the history and future of public libraries with Wayne Wiegand. Wiegand is Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University and former director of the Florida Book Awards. Often referred to as the “Dean of American library historians,” he is author of several books including Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library.

 

About Brown is the New White: 

Despite the abundant evidence from Obama’s victories proving that the U.S. population has fundamentally changed, many progressives and Democrats continue to waste millions of dollars chasing white swing voters. Explosive population growth of people of color in America over the past fifty years has laid the foundation for a New American Majority consisting of progressive people of color (23 percent of all eligible voters) and progressive whites (28 percent of all eligible voters). These two groups make up 51 percent of all eligible voters in America right now, and that majority is growing larger every day. Failing to properly appreciate this reality, progressives are at risk of missing this moment in history—and losing.

A leader in national politics for thirty years, Steve Phillips has had a front-row seat to these extraordinary political changes. A civil rights lawyer and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Phillips draws on his extensive political experience to unveil exactly how people of color and progressive whites add up to a new majority, and what this means for U.S. politics and policy. A book brimming with urgency and hope, Brown Is the New White exposes how far behind the curve Democrats are in investing in communities of color—while illuminating a path forward to seize the opportunity created by the demographic revolution.

About Part of Our Lives: 

Despite dire predictions in the late twentieth century that public libraries would not survive the turn of the millennium, their numbers have only increased. Two of three Americans frequent a public library at least once a year, and nearly that many are registered borrowers. Although library authorities have argued that the public library functions primarily as a civic institution necessary for maintaining democracy, generations of library patrons tell a different story.

In Part of Our Lives, Wayne A. Wiegand delves into the heart of why Americans love their libraries. The book traces the history of the public library, featuring records and testimonies from as early as 1850. Rather than analyzing the words of library founders and managers, Wiegand listens to the voices of everyday patrons who cherished libraries. Drawing on newspaper articles, memoirs, and biographies, Part of Our Livespaints a clear and engaging picture of Americans who value libraries not only as civic institutions, but also as public places that promote and maintain community.

Whether as a public space, a place for accessing information, or a home for reading material that helps patrons make sense of the world around them, the public library has a rich history of meaning for millions of Americans. From colonial times through the recent technological revolution, libraries have continuously adapted to better serve the needs of their communities. Wiegand demonstrates that, although cultural authorities (including some librarians) have often disparaged reading books considered not “serious,” the commonplace reading materials users obtained from public libraries have had a transformative effect for many, including people such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Moyers, Edgwina Danticat, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sotomayor, and Oprah Winfrey.

A bold challenge to conventional thinking about the American public library, Part of Our Lives is an insightful look into one of America’s most beloved cultural institutions.

  • On libraries Wayne promotes the progressive up-side of libraries. What I have seen in Los Angeles is all activity captured by a very regressive bureaucracy to the point staff morale is very low and very few if any progressive topics are ever the subject of public talks. What would help is for each library to have its own Vision, mission and product statement. This would get staff talking about values, which would warm up staff morale.

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