The Reading Rebellion
It was sunny and warm on the day that Lorenzo decided to burn his library card.
He went behind his villa, set the certificate-like piece of paper on fire, and dropped it onto the patio stones where it crumbled into a pile of flaky charcoal.
“There,” he said. “Take that!”
Lorenzo had waited for nice weather so that Burrocraté, his neighbor, would be outside gardening and able to witness the act of defiance and the launch of the rebellion. Burrocraté, a scribbler in the Land Registry Office, just didn’t get it, and Lorenzo wanted to show him once and for all that this was a serious issue and that others were prepared to confront it.
“Lorenzo, you’re crazy,” Burrocraté said watching as the breeze carried the charcoal flakes away. “People have to record their children, their property, and their crops with the government – why do you care about a few books – which, by the way, aren’t yours anyway?”
But the issue was not about such accountability; it was about personal privacy, citizen rights, and preserving a way of life. Lorenzo’s way of life.
Lorenzo was a chronic overdue book borrower. He always resented having to return books to the village library at a bureaucrat-prescribed time, reasoning that he had already paid for the books through his taxes and the fee for his library card. He begrudgingly covered the fines only when refused further service and only after he had shared his views on the authoritarian system with whoever happened to be manning the library information desk at the time.
“They don’t know what they’re doing,” Lorenzo told anyone who would listen. “The library loses thousands of silver lira every year with their stupid card system.”
“Are you saying they should raise your fees ?” Burrocraté asked on one particularly heated occasion.
The insolent question did not, of course, deserve an answer, yet Lorenzo was forced to pronounce on the issue of fee increases the very next month when budget reductions compelled the local library to increase its fines and annual renewal charge for library cards. The library also initiated a new written reminder system to pursue the truants holding books beyond their return due dates.
This combination hit Lorenzo like a thunderbolt from the heavens that cut through his republican soul and made his blood churn. Not only was he required to pay more money to this repressive government institution, but he was roused to the fact that the library had his name and the location of his villa in its monolithic records and that it was prepared to use this information to abuse him in his very own home.
“Only law-abiding citizens take out library cards,” Lorenzo told Burrocraté. “The cards do nothing to deter book thieves, browsers, and the illiterate.”
“Law-breakers break the law ?” asked Burrocraté. “That’s your argument ?”
Burrocraté was hopeless. He and others in the neighborhood refused to comprehend the fundamental issues at stake, and this intransigence amplified Lorenzo’s frustrations. Finally, he took to the streets to seek support with posters and street corner speeches advocating the complete abolition of the wasteful and intrusive library card system.
“Yeah, right on !!”
“The taverno won’t even take Library cards as security – that’s gotta tell you something!”
“My father had one on him when he died.”
These were among the many kudos and messages of support Lorenzo's anti-book control campaign drew, and this bolstered his resolve and enthusiasm for the cause.
“But Lorenzo you gleefully give financial information to the boy in the market and to travellers from Asia,” Burrocraté said trying to counter Lorenzo’s legitimate and intense concerns over personal information in the government library’s hands.
“That’s different,” Lorenzo said. “I’ve known that boy’s uncle for thirty years, and besides no one in the far east is going to use my credit records to increase my taxes!”
The aggravation with Burrocraté and the buoyancy of the campaign thus merged to induce the card-burning ceremony and the launch of a much more ambitious project. Lorenzo expanded his effort by soliciting support for a petition. He invited local library book borrowers to post their names and addresses on the wall next to the town hall and publicly declare their opposition to the system that allowed the government to know that they were library book borrowers.
The petition was just the first step. It was to underpin Lorenzo’s crusade targeting the re-election aspirations of any local politician who dared to go on record in support of library cards.
Ramano Chillemo, a perennial candidate for mayor, was quick to seize the opportunity. He held a rally in front of the main branch of the library where he joined in the symbolic library-card burning and announced that, if elected, he would put an end to the tyranny of the library card.
Chillemo's fevered followers, Lorenzo, and Lorenzo's disciples turned the rally into an event the likes of which the town had never seen before, and others united in the card-burning ceremony. The little fires made an impression on everyone, and the library card issue took hold. It was a featured element of every election debate. After resisting for two weeks, Burrocraté’s brother-in-law and favorite, the Mayor, finally yielded to the pressure and echoed Chillemo’s commitment.
Not to be outdone, Chillemo responded saying he would not only end the further use of library cards, but would also destroy all library records - the information on all books, journals, and papers in the system as well as names of past library card holders.
The Mayor again held out only to collapse one day before the election in the face of signs that his opponent had enormous and growing support among the village people.
“I too, if elected, will end the use of all library cards, destroy all library card records, and wipe away all information about the library holdings,” announced the Mayor.
It was not enough to shift the tide, and Chillemo rode to easy victory on the power of his election-night pledge - trumping the Mayor one last time with a hard and fast commitment.