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Librarians Aim For Civility

French forces fell quickly in World War II. They were no match for the German Wehrmacht.

It was a different story when the German Army stopped at the Swiss border across from Geneva and a mountainous country renowned for its marksmen. The German commander, addressing his Swiss counterpart, called for Anschluss - the unification of their two countries legally and culturally on German terms, as had already occurred between Germany and Austria.

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And besides, the German officer noted, the Swiss could muster but 50,000 men against his army of 100,000. "What would the Swiss leader do if his men marched on Geneva?" he asked. "Order my men to fire twice," was the reply. The Germans never invaded.

Parents in the United States face a cultural Anschluss when it comes to raising their children. Constant violence on television, pervasive B-rated movies on cable, 24-hour narcissistic rock videos, and thousands of debauched, tasteless, and uncivil Web sites on the Internet, indiscriminately target children. And perversely, children influenced by media influence other children.

But in defending the values of home and hearth against the media onslaught, parents have a natural ally. In nearly every community, there resides the cultural counterpart of the Swiss commander and his army - the librarian.

John Tessitore's cover story (at right) spotlights the pivotal role librarians play in what is published.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives as one of the definitions of culture: "development of the mind, faculties, manners; improvement or refinement by education and training." Just as public funds support the military and bolster its readiness, so too do public funds pay for the salaries of school and public librarians and the books they purchase.

Librarians steel our children to "fire twice" in the face of coarse, crude, media-spawned incivility.

* Comments or questions? Write to Ideas Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or by e-mail:

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