Library Juice 8:13 - July 15, 2005
2. Resolution on Workplace Speech
3. Rosenzweig comments on Council debate on anti-discrimination resolution
4. The People's Share in the Public Library
5. IF SHARKS WERE MEN
Quote for the week:
"Documentation is like sex: when it is good, it is very, very good; and
when it is bad, it is still better than nothing."
- Dick Brandon
(found on Brian Smith's Laughing Librarian website)
Homepage of the week: George Emery
Reference Book of the Day
HELP US WIN THE BATTLE FOR READER PRIVACY IN 2005
[ Don Wood to multiple ALA lists ]
GOOGLIZATION AND YOU
Is Google Print the PATRIOT ACT . . . on Steroids?
by Dennis Loy Johnson
[ sent to multiple lists by Mark Rosenzweig ]
Librarians Find Fault In Gay Pride Stance
Tampa Bay Online
[ sent by Don Wood to IFACTION ]
Art for the People? Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "The Gates"
By Jesse Lemisch
New Politics, vol. 10, no. 3
[ sent by Mark Rosenzweig to multiple lists ]
WASHINGTON | July 14, 2005
Lawmakers Agree to Renew Patriot Act
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and CARL HULSE
Lawmakers on three separate Congressional committees moved to impose
restrictions on some of the more controversial elements of the law.
[ sent by Don Wood to IFACTION ]
Freedom of Repression
New ruling will allow censorship of campus publications.
[ Don Wood to IFACTION ]
Iraq Casualties Map
[ Sent to me by Lauren Ray ]
Librarians as Spooks
The Scheme to Hijack the ALA in War on Cuba
by Diana Barahona
Znet, June 20, 2005
[ sent to the PLG list by Dana Lubow ]
Angry librarian's darts sting the world of poetry
The San Francisco Chronicle
[ from Library Link of the Day - http://www.tk421.net/librarylink/ ]
"Librarians for Fairness"
a pro-Israel group
[ found surfing ]
2. Resolution on Workplace Speech
WHEREAS the American Library Association is firmly committed to freedom
of expression (Policy 53.1.12); and
WHEREAS the library is an institution that welcomes and promotes the
expression of all points of view; and
WHEREAS library staff are uniquely positioned to provide guidance on
library policy issues that is informed by their experience and
education; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED that ALA Council amend Policy 54 (Library Personnel Practices)
54.21 Workplace Speech
Libraries should encourage discussion among library workers, including
library's administrators of non-confidential professional and policy
matters about the operation of the library and matters of public
concern within the framework of applicable laws.
Moved by Al Kagan, SRRT Councilor
Seconded by Mark Rosenzweig, Councilor at Larger
Endorsed by ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee
Endorsed by ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table
Approved by ALA Council, June 26, 2005
3. Rosenzweig comments on Council debate on anti-discrimination resolution
Date: Sun Jul 10 12:49:11 2005
From: Mark Rosenzweig <email@example.com>
To: SRRT Action Council <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
This library student (see article below from the Miami Herald) stood
by her principles which she understood to be our principles,
librarianship's core values.
Aren't we glad Council, after a debate which was shocking in what it
revealed, stood by the profession's commitments and passed the
resolution we did opposing (ongoing and escalating) discrimination
against library materials based on gender Identity or sexual
orientation content and the legislation which would encourage or
mandate such discrimination?
Outside of Council few will know that it did not pass without
opposition and the opposition was neither casual nor random. It was
an organized and orchestrated effort by Chapter Councilors from the
South and West (not all of them by any means, and not exclusively
there, but a real bloc) who claimed they couldn't go back to their
communities and legislatures with a resolution taking a stand in
defence of this principle in opposition to discrimination against
"GLBT: materials in their libraries..
Expressing a "state's rights" position reminiscent of the days when
Southern chapters defended segregation and Jim Crow, these Councilors
bridled at ALA reemphasizing for all of librarianship--from Florida
to Washington to Alaska and from Hawaii to California to Maine,-- a
principle they knew to be basic to librarianship but which , to their
profound irritation, was raised in reference to one of those
hot-button "social" issues their local politicians are making hay
with ("gay rights"), and therefore inconvenient to be seen defending
in that context.
Yes, Chapter Councilor after Chapter Councilor got up and opposed or
tried to alter the resolution because -- and this was explicitly
their reason --it was not going to be popular with their right-wing
legislators. It seems they think librarianship's, despite all the
lip-service paid to 'diversity', basic commitments should be tailored
to the prejudices of local politicians in the 'practical' interests,
of course, of getting a few miserable crumbs from the pies on the
tables of local power, something we're all supposed to understand as
reason enough to compromise oneself and one's profession..
To my mind the bloc of Chapter Councilors which formed around this
opposition to the dictates of the "big govamint' of ALA is not only
reactionary on its face but points to the undemocratic principle of
power which is granted to Chapter Councilors, some of whom are
self-selected, appointed or voted in by a tiny group of local library
leaders. Perhaps it is time to reconsider again the role of Chapter
Councilors and how they are selected. If this be a 'divisive' issue,
so be it. The campaign which Chapter Councilors waged against this
resolution, completely consonant with the Association's overarching
commitment to diversity, was also divisive.
Knowing that it will be met by indignation and horror , and that I
will be called every name in the book for this undoubtedly egregious
breach of the etiquette which dictates quietly burying and denying
these conflicts and their significance, I cannot refrain from
speaking the plain truth as I see it : their behavior in Council
on this issue (and not this alone) makes them the functional
equivalent of forbears who, not so long ago, stood up and justified
Jim Crow in libraries where segregation was the "community standard".
It is not a pretty reminiscence for many of us, most of us, I would
like to think. And, indeed, it should be noted for the historians of
librarianship that several veteran African-American librarians,
Councilors, rose to the floor to forcefully and with full recognition
of the parallels express their disgust that bigotry was raising its
head from the same quarters, this time aimed at homosexuals as once
it was aimed at black people.
So, I'm writing here for the record which will otherwise obscure this
significant conflict in Chicago unless it is explicitly pointed out
by one of us in print/on-line , while drawing your attention to the
well-aimed article below which should be chastening to some
Councilors and a lesson to us all.
ALA Councilor at large
Gay-authors flap won't stop student
Despite the sensation caused by her library display on gay pride,
library science student Meagan Albright said she'll stick to her
BY RODNEY THRASH
St. Petersburg Times
4. The People's Share in the Public Library
By Arthur E. Bostwick, Librarian, St. Louis Public Library
Read before the Chicago Woman's Club, Jan. 6, 1915
Published in Library Journal, April, 1915
The change that has come over the library in the last half century may
be described, briefly but comprehensively, by saying that it has become
predominantly a social institution; that is, that its primary concern
is now with the service that it may render to society -- to the people.
Books, of course, were always intended to be read, and a library would
have no meaning were it never to be used; yet in the old libraries the
collection and preservation of the books was primary and their use
secondary, whereas the modern institution exists primarily for public
service, the collection of the books, their preservation and whatever
is done to them being directed to this end. To a social institution --
a family, a school, a club, a church, a municipality -- the persons
constituting it, or served by it are all-important. A family without
parents and children, a school without pupils, a club without members,
a church with no congregation, a city without citizens -- all are
unthinkable. We may better realize the change in our conception of the
public library by noting that it has taken its place among bodies of
this type. A modern library with no readers is unthinkable; it is no
library, as we now understand the word; though it is teeming with
books, housed in a palace, well cataloged and properly manned.
It is no longer possible to question this view of the library as a
social institution -- a means of rendering general service to the widest
public. We have to deal not with theories of what the library ought to
be, but with facts indicating what it actually is; and we have only to
look about us to realize that the facts give the fullest measure of
support to what I have just said. The library is a great distributing
agency, the commodities in which it deals being ideas and its customers
the citizens at large, who pay, through the agency of taxation, for
what they receive. This democratic and civic view of the public
library's functions, however does not commend itself to those who are
not in sympathy with democratic ideals. In a recent address,
representative librarian refers to it as "the commercial-traveler
theory" of the library. The implication, of course, is that it is an
ignoble or unworthy theory. I have no objection to accepting the
phrase, for in my mind it has no such connotation. The commercial
traveler has done the world service which the library should emulate
rather than despise. He is the advance guard of civilization. To
speak but of our own country and of its recent years, he is responsible
for much of our improvement in transit facilities and hotel
accommodations. Personally, he is becoming more and more acceptable.
The best of our educated young men are going into commerce and in
commerce to-day no one can reach the top of the ladder who has not
proved his efficiency "on the road." Would that we could place men of
his type at the head of all our libraries!
We need not think, however, that there is anything new in the method of
distribution by personal travel. Homer employed it when he wished his
heroic verse to reach the great body of his countrymen. By personal
travel he took it to the cross-roads -- just as the distributor of food
and clothing and labor-saving appliances does today; just as we
librarians must do if we are to democratize all literature as Home
democratized a small part of it. Home, if you choose to say so,
adopted the "commercial-traveler theory" of literary distribution; but
I prefer to say that the modern public library in laying stress on the
necessity of distributing its treasures and in adopting the measures
that have proved effective in other fields, is working on the Homeric
Now, without the people to whom he distributed his wares, Homer would
have been dead long ago. He lives because he took his wares to his
audience. And without its public, as we have already said, the public
library, too, would soon pass into oblivion. It must look to the
public for the breath of life, for the very blood in its veins, for its
bone and sinew. What, then, is the part that the community may play in
increasing the efficiency of a public institution like the public
library? Such an institution is, first of all, a medium through which
the community does something for itself. The community employs and
supports it, and at the same time is served by it. To use another
homely illustration, which I am sure will not please those who object
to comparing great things with small, this type of relationship is
precisely what we find in domestic service. A cook or a housemaid has
a dual relation to the mistress of the house, who is at the same time
her employer and the person that she directly serves. This sort of
relation does not obtain, for instance, in the case of a railroad
employe, who is responsible to one set of persons and serves another.
The public library is established and maintained by a given community
in order that it may perform certain service for that same community
directly. It seems to me that this dual relationship ought to make for
efficiency. If it does not, it is because its existence and
significance are not always realized. The cook knows that if she does
not cook to suit her mistress she will lose her job -- the thing works
almost automatically. If the railroad employe does not serve the
public satisfactorily there is no such immediate reaction, although I
do not deny that the public displeasure may ultimately reach the
railroad authorities and through them the employe. In most public
institutions the reaction is necessarily somewhat indirect. The post
office is a public institution, but public opinion must act on it
generally through the channels of Congressional legislation, which
takes time. Owing to this fact, very few postmen, for instance,
realize that the persons to whom they deliver letters are also their
employers. In all libraries the machinery of reaction is not the same.
In St. Louis, for instance, the library receives the proceeds of a tax
voted directly by the people; in New York City it receives an
appropriation voted by the Board of Apportionment, whose members are
elected by the people. The St. Louis Public Library is therefore one
step nearer the control of the people than the New York Public Library.
If we could imagine the management of either library to become so
objectionable as to make its abolition desirable, a petition for a
special election could remove public support in St. Louis very soon.
In New York the matter might have to become an issue in a general
election, at which members of a Board of Apportionment should be
elected under pledge to vote against the library's appropriation.
Nevertheless, in both cases there is ultimate popular control. Owing
to this dual relation, the public can promote the efficiency of the
library in two ways -- by controlling it properly and by its attitude
toward the service that is rendered. Every member of the public, in
fact is related to the library somewhat as a railway stockholder,
riding on a train, is related to the company. He is at once boss and
Let us see first what the public can do for its library through its
relation of control. Besides the purse-strings, which we have seen are
sometimes held directly by the public and sometimes by its elected
representatives, we must consider the governing board of the
institution -- its trustees or directors. These may be elected by the
people or appointed by an elected officer, such as the mayor, or chosen
by an elected body, such as the city council or the board of education.
Let us take the purse-strings first. Does your public library get enough
public money to enable it to do the work that it ought to do? What is
the general impression about this in the community? What does the
library board think? What does the librarian think? What do the
members of his staff say? What has the library's annual report to say
about it? It is not at all a difficult matter for the citizen to get
information on this subject and to form his own opinion regarding it.
Yet it is an unusual thing to find a citizen who has either the
information or a well-considered opinion. The general impression
always seems to be that the library has plenty of money -- rather more,
in fact, that (Ed: than) it can legitimately use. It is probably well
for the library, under these circumstances, that the public control of
its purse-strings is indirect. If the citizens of an average American
city had to go to the polls annually and vote their public library an
appropriation, I am sure that most libraries would have to face a very
material reduction of their income.
The trouble about this impression is that it is gained without knowledge
of the facts. If a majority of the citizens, understanding how much
work a modern public library is expected to do and how their own
library does it, should deliberately conclude that its management was
extravagant, and that its expenditure should be cut down, the minority
would have nothing to do, as good citizens, but the idea, so generally
held, that libraries are well off, does operate in the long run to
limit library appropriations and to prevent the library from doing much
useful work that it might do and ought to do.
It is, then, every citizen's business, as I conceive it, to inform him
or herself of the work that the public library is doing, of that which
it is leaving undone, and of the possibilities of increased
appropriations. If the result is a realization that the library
appropriation is inadequate, that realization should take the form of a
statement that will sooner or later reach the ears and tend to
stimulate the action, of those directly responsible. And it should,
above all, aid in the formation of a sound public opinion. Ours is, we
are told, a government of public opinion. Such government will
necessarily be good or bad as public opinion is based on matured
judgment or only on fleeting impressions.
Inadequacy of support is responsible for more library delinquency than
the average citizen imagines. Many a librarian is deservedly condemned
for the unsatisfactory condition of his institution when his fault is
not, as his detractors think, failure to see what should be done, or
lack of ability to do it, so much as inability to raise funds to do it
with. This is doubtless a fault, and its possessor should suffer, but
how about the equally guilty accessories? How about the city
authorities who have failed to vote the library adequate support? How
about the board of trustees who have accepted such a situation without
protest? And what is more to our purpose here, how about the citizens
who have limited their efforts to pointing out the cracks in the
edifice with not a bit of constructive work in propping it up and
making possible its restoration to strength and soundness?
In conversation with a friend, not long ago, I referred to the financial
limitations of our library's work, and said that we could add to it
greatly and render more acceptable service if our income were larger.
He expressed great surprise, and said: "Why, I thought you had all the
money you want; your income must be all of $100,000 a year." Now our
income actually is about $250,000, but how could I tell him that? I
judiciously changed the subject.
Let us look next, if you please, at the library board and examine some
of its functions. There appears to be much public misapprehension of
the duties of this body, and such misapprehension assumes various and
opposing forms. Some appear to think that the librarian is responsible
for all that is done in the library and that his board is a perfunctory
body. Others seem to believe that the board is the direct
administrative head of the library, in all of its working details, and
the librarian is its executive in the limited sense of doing only those
things that he is told to do. Unfortunately there are libraries that
are operated in each of these ways, but neither one relationship nor
the other, nor any modification of either, is the ideal one between a
librarian and his board. The board is supreme, of course, but it is a
body of non-experts who have employed an expert to bring about certain
results. They ought to know what they want, and what they have a right
to expect, and if their expert does not give them this, the relation
between him and them should terminate; but if they are men of sense
they will not attempt to dictate methods or supervise details. They
are the delegated representatives of the great public, which owns the
library and operates it for a definite purpose. It is this function of
the board as the representative of the public that should be emphasized
here. Has the public a definite idea of what it wants from the public
library, and of what is reasonable for it to ask? If so, is it
satisfied that it is represented by a board that is of the same mind?
The citizens may be assured that the composition of the library board
rests ultimately upon its will. If the board is elective, this is
obvious; if appointive, the appointing officer or body would hardly
dare to go counter to the expressed desire of the citizens.
What has been said above may be put into very few words. The public
library is public property, owned and controlled by the citizens.
Every citizen, therefore, should be interested in setting standards for
it and playing his part toward making it conform to them -- in seeing
that its governing body represents him in also recognizing those
standards and trying to maintain them -- in laboring for such a due
apportionment of the public funds as shall not make an attempt to live
up to such standards a mere farce.
So much for the things that the citizen can and should do in his
capacity of library boss. His possibilities as a beneficiary are still
more interesting and valuable.
Perhaps you remember the story of the man who attempted to board the
warship and, on being asked his business, replied, "I'm one of the
owners." One version of the tale then goes on to relate how the sailor
thus addressed picked up a splinter from the deck, and handing it to
the visitor, remarked: "Well, I guess that's about your share. Take
it and get out!"
I have always sympathized with the sailor rather than his visitor. Most
of us librarians have had experiences with these bumptious "owners" of
public property. The fact has already been noted that in a case like
this the citizen is both and owner and a beneficiary. He has duties
and privileges in both capacities, but he sometimes acts the owner in
the wrong place. The man on the warship was doubtless an owner, but
that that particular moment he was only a visitor, subject to whatever
rules might govern visitors; and he should have acted as such. Every
citizen is a part owner of the public library; he should never forget
that fact. We have seen how he may effectively assert his ownership
and control. But when he enters the library to use it his roles is
that such of beneficiary, and he should act as such. He may so act and
at the same time be of the greatest service to the institution which
he, is a member of the public, has created and is maintaining.
I know of no way in which a man may show his good citizenship or the
reverse -- may either demonstrate his ability and willingness to live
and work in community harness, or show that he is fit for nothing but
individual wild life in the woods -- better than in his use of such a
public institution as a library. The man who cannot see that what he
gets from such an institution must necessarily be obtained at the price
of sacrifice -- that others in the community are also entitled to their
share, and that sharing always means yielding -- that man has not yet
learned the first lesson in the elements of civic virtue. And when one
sees a thousand citizens, each of whom would surely raise his voice in
protest if the library were to waste public money by buying a thousand
copies of the latest novel, yet find fault with the library because
each cannot borrow it before all the others, one is tempted to wonder
whether we really have here a thousand bad citizens or whether their
early education in elementary arithmetic has been neglected.
Before the present era there were regulations in all institutions that
seemed to be framed merely to exasperate to put the public in its place
and chasten its spirit. There are now no such rules in good libraries.
He who thinks there are may find that there is a difference of opinion
between him and those whom he has set in charge of the library
regarding what is arbitrary and what is necessary; but at any rate he
will discover that the animating spirit of modern library authority is
to give all an equal share in what it has to offer, and to restrain one
man no more than is necessary to insure to his brother the measure of
privilege to which all are equally entitled.
Another way in which the citizen, in his capacity of the library's
beneficiary, can aid it and improve its service is his treatment of its
administrators. Librarians are very human: they react quickly and
surely to praise or blame, deserved or undeserved. Blame is what they
chiefly get. Sometimes they deserve it and sometimes not. But the
occasions on which some citizen steps in and says "Well done, good and
faithful servant," are rare indeed. The public servant has to
interpret silence as praise; so sure is he that the least slip will be
caught and condemned by a vigilant public. No one can object to
discriminating criticism; it is a potent aid to good administration.
Mere petulant fault-finding, however, especially if based on ignorance
or misapprehension, does positive harm. And a little discriminating
praise, now and then, is a wonderful stimulant. No service is possible
without the men and women who render it; and the quality of service
depends, more than we often realize, on the spirit and temper of a
staff -- something that is powerfully affected, either for good or for
evil, by public action and public response.
Years ago, at a branch library in a distant city, a reader stood at the
counter and complained loudly because the library would not send her a
postal reserve notice unless she defrayed the cost, which was one cent.
The assistant to whom she was talking had no option in the matter and
was merely enforcing a rule common, so far as I know, to all American
public libraries; but she had to bear the brunt of the reader's
displeasure, which she did meekly, as it was all in the day's work.
The time occupied in this useless business spelled delay to half a
dozen other readers, who were waiting their turn. Finally, one of
them, a quiet little old lady in black, spoke up as follows: "Some of
us hereabouts think that we owe a great debt of gratitude to this
library. Its assistants have rendered service to us that we can never
repay. I am glad to have an opportunity to do something in return, and
it therefore gives me pleasure to pay the cent about which you are
taking up this young lady's time, and ours." So saying, she laid the
coin on the desk and the line moved on. I have always remembered these
tow points of view as typical of two kinds of library users. Their
respective prefects on the temper and work of a library staff need, I
am sure, no explanation.
In what I have said, which is such a small fraction of what might be
said, that I am almost ashamed to offer it to you, I have in truth only
been playing the variations on one tune, which is -- Draw closer to the
library, as it is trying to draw closer to you. There is no such
thing, physicists tell us, as a one-sided force. Every force is but
one aspect of a stress, which includes also an equal and opposing
force. Any two interacting things in this world are either approaching
each other or receding from each other. So it should be with library
and public. A forward movement on the one hand should necessarily
involve on to meet it.
The peculiarity of our modern temper is our hunger for facts -- our
confidence that when the facts are known we shall find a way to deal
with them, and that until the facts are known we shall not be able to
act -- not even to think. Our ancestors thought and acted sometimes on
premises that seem to us frightfully flimsy -- they tried, as Dean Swift
painted them in his immortal satire, to get sunbeams from cucumbers.
There are some sunbeam-chasers among us to-day, but even they recognize
the need of real cucumbers to start with; the imaginary kind will not
do. I recently heard a great teacher of medicine say that the task of
the modern physician is merely to ascertain the facts on which the
intelligent public is to act. How different that sounds from the dicta
of the medicine of a past generation! It is the same everywhere": we
are demanding an accurate survey -- an ascertainment of the facts in any
field in which action, based on inference and judgment, is seen to be
necessary. Now the library is nothing more nor less than a storehouse
of recorded facts. It is becoming so more truly and more fully every
day, thereby adjusting itself to the modern temper of which I have
already spoken. The library and its users are coming more closely
together, in sympathy, in aims and in action, than ever before -- partly
a result and partly a justification for that Homeric method of
popularizing it which has been characterized and condemned as
commercial. The day when the librarian, or the professor, or the
clergyman could retire into his tower and hold aloof the herd is past.
The logical result of such an attitude is now being worked out on the
continent of Europe. Not civilizations as some pessimists are
lamenting, but the forces antagonistic to civilization are there
destroying one another, and there is hope that a purified democracy
will arise from the wreckage. May our American civilization never have
to run the gantlet of such a terrible trial!
Meanwhile, there can be no doubt that the hope for the future efficiency
of all our public institutions, including the library, lies in the
success of democracy, and that deepens on the existence and improvement
of the conditions in whose absence democracy necessarily fails.
Foremost among these is the homogeneity of the population. The people
among whom democracy succeeds must have similar standards, ideas, aims,
and abilities. Democracy may exist in a pack of wolves, but not in a
group that is half wolves and half men. Either the wolves will kill
the men or the men the wolves. This is an extreme case, but it is true
in general that in a community made up of irreconcilable elements there
can be no true democracy. And the same oneness of vision and propose
that conduces to the success of democracy will also bring to perfection
such great democratic institutions as the library, which have already
borne such noteworthy fruit among us just because we are homogeneous
beyond all other nations on the earth. And here progress is by action
and reaction, as we see it so often in the world. The unity of aims
and abilities that makes democracy and democratic institutions possible
is itself facilitated and increased by the work of those institutions.
The more work the library does, the more its ramification multiply, and
the further they extend, the more those conditions are favored that
make the continuance of the library possible. In working for others,
it is working for itself, and every additional bit of strength and
sanity that it takes on does but enable it to work for others the more.
And if the democracy whose servant it is will but realize that it has
grown up as a part of that American system to which we are all
committed -- to which we owe all that we are and in which we must place
all our hopes for the future -- then neither democracy nor library will
have aught to fear. Democracy will have its "true and laudable"
service from the library and the library in its turn will have adequate
sympathy, aid and support from the people.
It is no accident that I make this appeal for sympathy and aid to a club
composed of women. The bonds between the modern public library and the
modern woman's club have been particularly strong in this country. The
two institutions have grown up together, making their way against
suspicion, contempt and hostility, aided by the same public demand, and
now, when both are recognized as elements in the intellectual strength
of our nation, they are rendering mutual service. The club turns to
the library daily. Hitherto the library has turned to the club only in
some emergency -- a bill to be passed, an appropriation to be made, an
administration to be purified. I have tried to show you how, apart
from these great services, which no one would think of minimizing, the
women of this country, as citizens, can uphold the hands of the library
daily. Ours is a government of public opinion, and in the formation of
that opinion there is no more powerful element than the sentiment of
our women, especially when organized in such bodies as yours.
"To be aristocratic in taste and democratic in service," says Bliss
Perry, "is the privilege and glory of a public library." In appealing
thus to both your aristocracy and your democracy, I feel, then, that I
have not gone astray.
5. IF SHARKS WERE MEN
"If sharks were men," Mr. Keuner was asked by his landlady's little girl,
"would they be nicer to the little fishes?"
"Certainly," he said. "If sharks were men, they would build enormous
boxes in the ocean for the little fish, with all kinds of food inside, both
vegetable and animal. They would take care that the boxes always had fresh
water, and in general they would make all kinds of sanitary arrangements.
If, for example, a little fish were to injure a fin, it would immediately be
bandaged, so that it would not die and be lost to the sharks before its
time. So that the little fish would not become melancholy, there would be
big water festivals from time to time; because cheerful fish taste better
than melancholy ones.
"There would, of course, also be schools in the big boxes. In these
schools the little fish would learn how to swim into the sharks' jaws. They
would need to know geography, for example, so that they could find the big
sharks, who lie idly around somewhere. The principal subject would, of
course, be the moral education of the little fish. They would be taught that
it would be the best and most beautiful thing in the world if a little fish
sacrificed itself cheerfully and that they all had to believe the sharks,
especially when the latter said they were providing for a beautiful future.
The little fish would be taught that this future is assured only if they
learned obedience. The little fish had to beware of all base, materialist,
egotistical and Marxist inclinations, and if one of their number betrayed
such inclinations they had to report it to the sharks immediately.
"If sharks were men, they would, of course, also wage wars against one
another, in order to conquer other fish boxes and other little fish. The
wars would be waged by their own little fish. They would teach their little
fish that there was an enormous difference between themselves and the little
fish belonging to the other sharks. Little fish, they would announce, are
well known to be mute, but they are silent in quite different languages and
hence find it impossible to understand one another. Each little fish that,
in a war, killed a couple of other little fish, enemy ones, silent in their
own language, would have a little order made of seaweed pinned to it and be
awarded the title of hero.
"If sharks were men, there would, of course, also be art. There would
be beautiful pictures, in which the sharks' teeth would be portrayed in
magnificent colors and their jaws as pure pleasure gardens, in which one
could romp about splendidly. The theaters at the bottom of the sea would
show heroic little fish swimming enthusiastically into the jaws of sharks,
and the music would be so beautiful that to the accompaniment of its sounds,
the orchestra leading the way, the little fish would stream dreamily into
the sharks' jaws, lulled by the most agreeable thoughts.
"There would also be a religion, if sharks were men. It would preach
that little fish only really begin to live properly in the sharks' stomachs.
"Furthermore, if sharks were men there would be an end to all little
fish being equal, as is the case now. Some would be given important offices
and be placed above the others. Those who were a little bigger would even be
allowed to eat up the smaller ones. That would be altogether agreeable for
the sharks, since they themselves would more often get bigger bites to eat.
And the bigger little fish, occupying their posts, would ensure order among
the little fish, become teachers, officers, engineers in box construction,
"In short, if sharks were men, they would for the first time bring
culture to the ocean."
Excerpt from Bertolt Brecht's "STORIES OF MR. KEUNER"
The complete Mr. Keuner stories are published by City Lights Books.
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