Thomas Jefferson believed that an informed citizenry was essential for a functioning republic. To that end, when the Library of Congress was burnt by the British in the War of 1812, he donated his own rich collection as part of the rebuilding effort.
As you might guess from the name, the Library functions as the research arm of the U.S. Congress. But, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections, it is also the largest library in the world.
Those touring the building are looking up in this photo I took while I was in our nation’s capital last November. The immediate object of their view were the murals on the ceiling being described by our guide. But I think they were also looking up because they were properly awed that so much information is available even to citizens with the least resources.
As much as anything, this election has been about the use and misuse of information, truth and falsehood. At some point, I think, the Library of Congress and others across the country will need not just to make a wealth of information available, but also to teach citizens how to evaluate it. Unless Americans learn the value of critical thinking—a skill woefully underused this past election—I fear for the direction of this country.