I just read a remarkable blog post by Chip Ward, former Assistant Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, posted on Tom Englehardt's blog, TomDispatch.com.
The posting is detailed and impassioned, and best read in the original. I can't resist quoting from it, but everyone should read it in its entirety.
Here's an excerpt:
"In the meantime, the Salt Lake City Public Library -- Library Journal's 2006 "Library of the Year" -- has created a place where the diverse ideas and perspectives that sustain an open and inclusive civil society can be expressed safely, where disparate citizens can discover common ground, self-organize, and make wise choices together. We do not collect just books, we also gather voices. We empower citizens and invite them to engage one another in public dialogues. I like to think of our library as the civic ballroom of our community where citizens can practice that awkward dance of mutuality that is the very signature of a democratic culture.
And if the chronically homeless show up at the ball, looking worse than Cinderella after midnight? Well, in a democratic culture, even disturbing information is useful feedback. When the mentally ill whom we have thrown onto the streets haunt our public places, their presence tells us something important about the state of our union, our national character, our priorities, and our capacity to care for one another. That information is no less important than the information we provide through databases and books. The presence of the impoverished mentally ill among us is not an eloquent expression of civil discourse, like a lecture in the library's auditorium, but it speaks volumes nonetheless."