I noticed this past week that my local library system, the New York Public Library, is again seeking donations and letters to city council members in order to address its budget woes. The move, of course, has everything to do with the time of the year, as the city works through its budget and, initially, cuts the library budget as part of the solution for the shortfall.
Given the habits of local governments, I imagine that your local public library is facing the same budget issues, or will fact those issues soon. And, unless your public library has a reputation of near that of my library, it is likely facing a much more difficult budget problem. Somehow the library seems like an easy place to make cuts. But the following excerpt helps explain why funding libraries is important.
Few Church members today remember that when the Relief Society was more independent, it had its own lessons, and one of the monthly lessons focused on literature and the arts. The text below is one of those lessons, from the January 1917.
In many ways this lesson is surprising, and not just for the fact that it was taught. I was surprised at how basic the lesson was, covering material that I think I was taught in High School, although I’m not sure that it sunk in very well. It is tempting, therefore, to think that one reason for dropping these lessons is that they were being taught in school. However, I’m not sure that in 1917 the school system was covering this material very well, and even today I think many Church members would benefit from repeating these lessons, even though they don’t have much to do with doctrine.
I should probably keep in mind, as I prepare this summary of the works cited in each Conference, that the custom of including footnotes listing the source documents for statements made in a text is relatively recent, and depends a lot on the preferences of the speaker and the expectations of the audience. Fifty years ago these footnotes were extremely unusual and 100 years ago they were unheard of.
Not that the discourses of 50 or 100 years ago didn’t include references to other works. They did, the custom just wasn’t to put that information in footnotes. The items from General Conference in my Sunday Literary Criticism Sermon series makes that clear.
Even today conference talks sometimes mention works that aren’t included in the footnotes. more
At this point, the sense I have is that Mormon attitudes towards literature and media stabilized by the middle of the 20th century, and hasn’t changed too much since then. LDS leaders generally praise classic works, especially those from at least 50 years before the discourse, while cautioning against the bad in media, especially the portrayal of sex, violence and profanity. And speakers often complain about the declining values in the media.
Perhaps the following excerpts from an article by Spencer W. Kimball and his wife Camilla will give a sense of what I mean. In most ways their comments could appear in a Church magazine today, except for the references to current technology.
In all the counsel from LDS General Authorities during the history of the Church, it is easy to find criticism of the media, including suggestions that range from condemnations of fiction for being “untrue” to current criticisms over sex, violence and profanity. Less frequently we find suggestions that members should fill their homes with good media. And even less frequently has come advice that we should support good media—both financially by buying media that support our ideals and also by expressing gratitude for the efforts of those who produce that media.
In the following, then-Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley urgest exactly this latter support of media. more
The idea that the audience might somehow control what the author writes could be considered a kind of post-modern concept, given the traditional view that literary works originate with authors and are then transmitted to readers. Somehow there is an assumption traditionally that the author is independent of his audience.
Of course that has never really been true, and even early in the development of literature authors acknowledge that they crafted their works to suit their audience and patrons. Still, the idea that a work might have been written quite differently had it been composed in another place and time can be somewhat jarring if you haven’t thought much about it. And, I suppose, it can be even more jarring if the works you are thinking about are considered scripture.
It is difficult to pass on the idea that our culture, Mormon culture, has produced things of value. It is something that we fight today and something that we have fought in the past. And the assumption that our culture is without much of value comes from within as much as without. When people aren’t familiar with the cultural goods that the Mormon people have produced, its hard to convince them that what is there is worth perusing.
While we struggle to address this problem today, it may help to recognize that others have tried to address it in the past also. And among those who have tried is Levi Edgar Young.
Among the General Authorities of my own youth, perhaps the biggest promoter of books and learning was Sterling W. Sill. As a teen I received as a gift and read his The Majesty of Books (1974) and it reinforced my love of books and belief that they are, as Sill claims, the greatest of human innovations.
The following excerpts are from one of his most memorable and most literature-oriented conference talks, Medicine for the Soul, given in 1972.