Founding Fathers

Testimony to the Montgomery County Council

4 April 2002

by Paulette Dickerson

Since September 11, 2001, our whole society has begun to think in terms of us and them. 'Us' being, you know, us, the good guys and 'them' being the scary guys, the ones we--us--worry about. Scariness is very visceral and very short term; it's hard to ignore and not a good tool to develop permanent social policies with.

It is straightforward to put security measures into place--pat downs, metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, more police presence, reduced public access and Jersey barriers come to mind. These are fairly good answers--quick, costly, easy to implement and effective. Still, a society doesn't become a civilized place to live because of fences and guard dogs.

A society becomes civilized when its people are well-educated and as its people and its government value and promote knowledge.

The Founding Fathers of our society were, almost to the man, thoughtful, ambitious, well-educated and discursive people.

They spent years hammering out the details for the kind of government they wanted to start here. They looked as far away as the ancient Greeks and Romans and as close as their own town meetings.

They discussed "pure" democracy where each man has a vote on all issues; they argued for and against republics where the voters choose a "representative" for the larger issues; they argued about federalism or whether the separate states should combine into a loose "confederation of states" ; they argued about who should vote and what voting would mean. They debated everything.

But they didn't argue in a vacuum; they used the wisdom of their time to put what they observed, what they learned, and what they read, into discussions with each other face-to-face, in letters, newspapers and broadsides. They used what they knew to create our society.

Knowledge is very long term. The Founding Fathers lived in a world where most people only traveled as far as they could walk and no one had flush toilets, fertilizer, antibiotics or the internet. They valued knowledge, information, the free flow of ideas. They came up with a durable form of government that has kept us safe and secure for a couple hundred years. Knowledge is power.

The Founders were book people. They knew libraries. They owned libraries. Thomas Jefferson's library became the core around which the Library of Congress was formed.

The fledgling U.S. Government bought Jefferson's library because the Congress of that time knew that it and its successors would need access to that store of information. And we, their descendants, have access to books and to other media in the present day Library of Congress that they couldn't have ever dreamed of.

Access to libraries. Think about it.

The limitations that the Founding Fathers placed on "one man, one vote" were almost all designed to bias the electorate towards men of education, knowledge, social responsibility. Men of books.

So you know where I am going with this. That was the wind up. Here's the pitch.

Libraries are more important in scary times. In the short term, they provide us with the knowledge of how to manage in a crisis. In the long term, they help us to figure out how to mitigate the effects of that crisis and, hopefully, how to avoid the next one.

Education, books and libraries were instrumental in developing our society, in sustaining it as a democracy, and in promoting the innovations like fertilizer, telephones, spinning jennies and the internet, that allow us to live comfortably.

Libraries may even save the world someday when we are better at sharing knowledge with others. Maybe someday, when we are successful enough, there won't even be a 'them'.

Paulette Dickerson P.O. Box 598 Kensington, MD. 20895-0598
Private Citizen / Library Advocate

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Send comments or suggestions to:
E-Mail: "pdickerson (at)"
Paper Mail: Paulette Dickerson, P.O.Box 598, Kensington, MD 20895-0598, USA

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