Bill Moyers Essay: How Citizen Power Can Save a Library

June 25, 2012

In this web-exclusive Bill Moyers Essay, Bill professes his lifelong love for libraries and their strong cultural value, and points to a crisis in public library funding across the country. But he also shares a unique and controversial community effort in Troy, Michigan that kept its library from becoming a political casualty, and serves as “a reminder of what can happen when we act together.”

Watch below the full video that explains how the Tea Party put the library in jeopardy, and how the town — with the help ad agency Leo Burnett — successfully fought back.

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  • JonThomas

    What a brilliant approach!!

    I can’t clap loud enough for what these people were able to accomplish!!

    I hope the Tea Party’ers were forced to spend a lot in their efforts.

    I also hope that they are forever stigmatized by their disgraceful attempt to have that library shut down!

    By extension… I hope that Norquist and his ilk, the  ideological brethren of these Tea Party’ers, are also shown up for what will, and already has, happened if their philosophies continue to be followed.

    Yes, there is undoubtedly unnecessary, and wasteful spending, but when extremists and uncompromising, extreme approaches are followed, then the results are worse than the problem.

    Wisdom and consideration are what is needed.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.


  • Dhal9000

    All my life I’ve hovered between poverty and the ragged lower fringes of the middle class, but I’ve never felt poor. Thanks to libraries, public schools and public parks, I’ve always felt a part of my community, knowing that no matter what my income level I was the equal of anyone else in my role as citizen. I’ve had the opportunity to be a life long student of literature, poetry and history. I’ve been blessed with the chance to hike and camp and fish throughout the American West. I have a park just two blocks from my front door where I can walk along a river, past ponds and a waterfall.
    I’ve also given back to the community and the nation. I served in the armed forces, volunteered for various community projects and organizations, served on juries and I vote in every election.
    To hear some say the we can no longer afford libraries, parks, teachers and firefighters, that public funds should only go to “essential” services like weapons, jails and freeways makes me think that we are losing our way and devolving from citizens to customers, from active participants in civic life to passive consumers of corporate services. All the wealth in the world could never make up for that kind of poverty of the soul.

  • Shibumi64

    That was a video that made me feel very good.

  • Donald Giles Miller

    Of course I love books and was shocked by the sight of burning books. I was happy to see how it turned out. Like Bill I grew up in a poor home, no T.V., and learned to love to read. I own several thousand books now and have given many to libraries and family.Books are my friends and how could one think of burning your friends. As a college professor I was amazed to learn that many young people do not not read books.  

  • Dan

    Long time follower ( 30 + years). This was the best show you have hosted that I have seen…and I have seen a bunch. Need to find a way to get this word out better..I am sure there are many, many people like me who see it too. Matt Taibbi and Yves Smith not shy about their thoughts on matter. When in college many years ago I remember discussing that major problem with capitalism is that it breaks every now and then–it is breaking now and Matt and Yves see it and have good ideas/instincts as to why and maybe how to fix.
    Want to get in touch with you guys.

  • Bill Moyers

    I’ll see that someone sends you Matt’s and Yves’ addreses, Dan.  They need reinforcements!

  • jeanette martimo

    The “book burning party” sign stopped me dead in my tracks.  What a way to fame a message.  I will be sharing this with all my friends as the way to do it.  Tremendous story!

  • Joan Mortenson

    I consider books as my friends and wouldn’t know what to do without them.  I love my local library and spend many hours there.  I don’t have the money to buy many books and haven’t the room in my small condo if I did.  So the library is a godsend.  

    What an ingenious way the citizens of Troy found to save their library.  Thanks for sharing their story.

  • Anonymous

    Ha!  What a brilliant approach to stopping the Tea Party!  A taste of their own medicine. I love it!

    Congratulations to the good people of one town. Thanks, as always, to Bill Moyers for telling us the story.

    Now, how can we spread the word more widely to inspire many more actions like this?  In my circle of friends and relatives, intelligent folks all, I find most people largely unaware of the depth of our nation’s decline and misdirection. We have effectively been pacified by the media.

    And we should be as terrified of Obama’s secret NDAA and TPP as we are of the Tea Party Republicans.

    A book-burning party was a stroke of genius.

  • Yvonne Siu-Runyan

    The rich body of research about the importance of school and public libraries is clear. Access to books is most important for a informed citizenry. We all need access to school and public libraries. Better libraries means better access to books and digital tools. If you want kids to read surround them with print and encourage self-selected reading and provide time for this to happen. Encourage a love of reading – something that really can’t be measured by a standardized test.

  • Katy Syed

    There just might be another Bill Moyers out there, in Troy, MI (my home state), who will now have access to books and a bright future, thanks to brilliant and creative advertising.  So good to know!  Good things are happening in the US and that is something to feel hopeful about.

  • Linda in San Jose, CA

    What a brilliant campaign!  Troy, Michigan, is so lucky to again have citizens supporting their library is such great numbers!

  • Jack Smith

    Seattle has an excellent chance to support her libraries this year in Proposition 1. A million adventures in words. Don’t deny our children, or you for that matter, This important opportunity. It is is not about saving money; it is about building lives.

  • Mleonjanssen

    If the library system in this country is allowed to be used as a political football then we are all in trouble.

  • Anonymous

    Who can I help do something about the similar massive scale Tea Party misinformation on the “Affordable Care Act” ?As a wheelchair-bound 78 year old I would love to do what I can to be a part of “changing the frame.” We need to point out the values ALL society would receive under a successful mass action to support the Act. The advertising agency work to help the Troy majority was brilliant. We need others who can help to change the meme. Again, please send this to someone or some organization that I could work with. Or please suggest where I could find people who are also committed to telling the whole story. Bill, thank you for your marvelous work over the years to bring important issues to our attention. Margaret Mead — one person at a time . . .

  • Erivera1446

    Thanks for featuring this grassroots effort on your website. It is a wonderful example of what can be done if we work hard, together, for the common good. It is great to have Bill back on the air… I really missed the year or so without him. We need more Bill Moyers!

  • Beverly Weaver once littlejohn

    Don, I hope you get this. You were my college teacher and you changed my life. Psych techery, 20 something years ago. My regards to your family.

  • Tim Senstock

    Bill, I couldn’t have said it better and we had the same experience: I felt the exact same way the first time I entered my college library as a Freshman. Thanks for the good reporting and great message. Tim S.