Speculative fiction queen Margaret Atwood has done so much great work, and she’s getting recognized more and more these days. She’s lending her newly heightened cachet to a worthy cause: Encouraging New York Public Library patrons to sign a petition in support of continued funding for the city’s libraries.
In an letter headlined “There are no public libraries in The Handmaid’s Tale’s Gilead,” Atwood drew a clear line between access to books and having a free and open society:
There are an infinite variety of tyrannies and dystopias, but they all share one trait: the ferocious opposition to free thought, open minds, and access to information. Where people are free to learn, to share, to explore, to feel and dream, liberty grows.
This is why the library matters so much. It is a democratizing and liberating force like none other.
“It’s no coincidence,” she added, “that there are no public libraries in the dystopia I wrote about in my novel The Handmaid’s Tale.” For those who have been eagerly binging on the foreboding Hulu adaptation of her book, that comparison is chilling.
Atwood’s letter is part of a letter-writing campaign, headed by literary luminaries including Malcolm Gladwell and Junot Diaz, urging the city to allocate more funding in 2018 for New York City public libraries, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library: $34 million in additional operating funds and $150 million in capital funding. The requested funding would be used, respectively, to expand library services (even keeping some branches open all week) and to perform necessary maintenance, according to the NYPL.
All too often, local governments target libraries for budget cuts at the expense of the mission of providing accessible education and literacy to the public. In the midst of all the political chaos today, Atwood and her fellow literary advocates remind us, we can’t lose sight of the power of free access to learning and literature.