Benning quotes Jefferson: “I cannot live without books”

by Joe Benning

To the Vermont General Assembly Chairs on Education, Institutions and Appropriations: Frankly, as a former legislator, I’ve been reluctant to become involved in your work.  However, I feel an urgent need to contact you to add my name to the growing list of those extremely upset over the decision to close physical libraries in the new State University system. As chairs of your respective, pertinent committees, I believe you have the power to reverse this decision.

One of my first jobs in high school was to work stocking shelves in my local town’s public library.  From that time forward I have appreciated how integral a part libraries are to a sense of community, no matter where or under whose authority they may exist.  I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate for any of you what that means.

Joe Benning

Parochially I join those already speaking out loudly against the loss of a physical library in a three county area that desperately needs to retain such facilities. In 1975 I entered what was then called “Lyndon State College,” formerly the State’s first teacher’s college.  It became immediately apparent that the college library was not just a wonderful asset for the college community, it was a vital component in the town/gown relationship.  Students “from away” frequented a library often populated with citizens from around the Northeast Kingdom (and beyond) for research, forums, classes and the like.

Additionally, our library in Lyndon became a repository for Vermontiana, especially under the guidance of my political mentor, the late State Senator, Professor Emeritus and Vermont historian Graham Stiles Newell.  The collection of books he amassed, which still exists today in the library room dedicated to his memory, is quite sizable for such a small college.  My greatest alarm in this controversy is the real possibility that valuable collection is somehow lost to public access and/or dispersed.

I read some time ago that this decision is motivated, at least in part, to an alleged downturn in circulation numbers.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but it is not relevant to the discussion.  In my four years at the college and going on nearly fifty as a resident of Lyndon, I cannot recall ever taking out a book from our library.  On the other hand, I spent countless hours in that library as a student, probably more so after graduating, to expand my education and community fellowship.

I also read that college officials believe digital, online volumes can meet the students’ needs adequately. With the introduction of personal computers during my lifetime, I’m cognizant of the promise technology brings.  But now able to compare both the before and after, my generation can attest that no technology can replace the quiet solitude and person-to-person educational learning experiences found in a library environment. As legislators during Covid-19’s remote meetings, you know full well that Zoom meetings did not, and cannot, compare to in-person conversations.  Digital technology is meant to compliment, not replace, our person-to-person interactions.

The final argument I’ve heard is that this move will save money.  Alumni and current students strenuously disagree.  Do the current Trustees seriously believe elimination of the central gathering place so critical to student campus life will attract more students? Have they even considered the possibility that current students, disgusted by this move, will decide to go elsewhere? I was the first student elected to the Vermont State College Board of Trustees back in 1978.  That Board and the current one have always had the same problem: lack of money from a legislature statutorily required to foot the bill.  But libraries have never existed to make a profit.  Allowing the current Board to eviscerate the soul of these institutions is simply intolerable. 

 I’ll close with a quotation from a leather book mark I received years ago when I ordered the six volume treatise on Thomas Jefferson by Dumas Malone.  It should serve as a rallying cry for this discussion.  Said Jefferson:  “I cannot live without books.” 

The author is a Lyndonville attorney and former state senator for Chittenden County.

Categories: Commentary

17 replies »

  1. Mr. Benning’s remarks are, as usual, chock-full of logical fallacies.

    For example, he writes “…no technology can replace the quiet solitude and person-to-person educational learning experiences found in a library environment.” Really… says who?

    Then he goes on to project his opinion on our legislators, saying “you know full well that Zoom meetings did not, and cannot, compare to in-person conversations.”

    I suspect Mr. Benning is claiming to be an authority on Zoom meetings because he once was a legislator. In the realm of logical fallacies, this is called an ‘appeal to authority’ – in which the arguer claims an authority figure’s expertise to support a claim despite this expertise being irrelevant or overstated. So, now ‘in-person conversations’ are a prerequisite for being able to read, as though we can only read a book while having a conversation with someone simultaneously? So much for ‘quiet solitude’.

    So, what’s Mr. Benning’s motive for presenting this flawed argument? It’s the same old same old – “… the same problem: lack of money from a legislature statutorily required to foot the bill.” Never mind that there is no statutory requirement to fund a library nor ‘eviscerate the soul of these institutions’ – as if they have a ‘soul’ in the first place (an equivocation fallacy).

    Again, almost every argument put forth in Mr. Benning’s missive are logical fallacies. And he’s in good company. Even Jefferson’s claim – “I cannot live without books…” stated in his letter to John Adams, is not only incomplete, it’s called a hasty generalization. Jefferson could just as accurately have said that he can’t live without the printing press, or without pen and parchment, or without ink. And I can only wonder what Jefferson would have said if he had an iPhone 14 Pro with a LexisNexis or Westlaw app in his pocket.

    • Statutory Clarification: There is extensive Vermont statutory legislation regarding college, university, and school libraries; including any other library or archive that is open on a regular basis and makes available on site or circulates materials to the public without a fee. The State University library system is fee based. If a State University library is deemed to be available without a fee, it may fall under the definitions and jurisdiction of the State Library Board and Department of Libraries.

      None the less, and while the related statutes are extensive, I have yet to find any statutory directive, other than those expressed by a designated library board, requiring a specific level or form of investment in a given library.

      • Jay: The Vermont State Colleges system is a creature of statute. It’s purpose is defined in Title 16, Section 2171(a). Since its inception, the State has promised to fund this system “… in whole or substantial part.” Since my time on the Board of Trustees in 1978/79, it was clear to me the State has never come close to doing that. Over the past decade or so the money gap has forced Trustees to make decisions that are rapidly undermining the overall mission. Closing libraries, in my mind, is probably the worst decision made thus far.

        It is ironic that the entities you’ve cited here have also actually come out to criticize the decision to close these libraries. I suppose the difference you and I may have here is that I’ve always considered the library physical plant at each of these institutions as a necessary component. It appears (but I hope I’m wrong) that you’ve decided your I-phone is an adequate replacement. (I’ll skip the fact that a sizable portion of this State remains without cell phone and/or internet coverage- especially here in the Kingdom.) If that is the case, why maintain physical institutions at all? If you agree with the previous question, we have a fundamental disagreement on the importance of these institutions to their respective communities and the State of Vermont in general.

        It’s okay if we disagree, but I remain mystified as to why you continue to lace your comments with snarky and cutting remarks. I can’t speak for you, but I myself found our roughly two hour face-to-face meeting here in Lyndonville far more productive and enjoyable to trading barbs here, a place populated by too many trolls who have nothing better to do than put down people who make comments they disagree with. Next time you come to Lyndon perhaps we should meet at the college library. I think you’d find what goes on there is indeed the “soul” of the institution. That institution is an integral part of my community. That’s reason enough, in my mind, for arguing to keep it intact.

        Thanks for weighing in.

      • Re: ” it was clear to me the State has never come close to doing that.”
        Thank you for engaging, Mr. Benning. That you do so is an honorable trait and separates you from most of your former colleagues. Again, thank you.

        But you continue to avoid the crux of the matter.

        That you believe a “library physical plant at each of these institutions as a necessary component” is your opinion. It’s a sentiment. Not a proven necessity.

        Your claim that “a sizable portion of this State remains without cell phone and/or internet coverage – especially here in the Kingdom”, is an obfuscation of the matter at hand – specifically the Jeffersonian reference that you will die without books. You continue to ignore the point that the cost of maintaining a building to house ‘books’ is the issue at hand.

        I won’t elaborate further in this regard. You need only to re-read my comment to get the point. Providing a quiet space at the school, with computer terminals and microfiche readers, is all that’s required. And I hope, at least, that these are the cost efficiencies the current State University management team is considering.

        We do disagree, Mr. Benning. And I am as entitled to take your commentary as being ‘snarky and cutting’ in the same way you take mine. But I don’t emphasize that point because it’s a diversion. An ad hominem logical fallacy. You’re advocating that taxpayers make an investment. I’m simply pointing out that you aren’t justifying the expense.

        Article 9. [Citizens’ rights and duties in the state; bearing arms; taxation]
        “… previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evident to the Legislature to be of more service to community than the money would be if not collected.”

        So far, your cost/benefit analysis remains unconvincing, to say the least.

  2. Hey Joe, here is a couple of books you should read.
    The 5000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen and The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution by W. Cleon Skousen.

    Maybe you’ll learn something.

    • James: your comment here implies that I know little about the Constitution While I’ll confess I haven’t read Skousen’s books, I think you’d be quite surprised if you ever stepped into my den. My personal library includes numerous books, all of which I’ve read to the point of writing notes in the margins, on the creation of this Federal Republic and this State. From the Federalist Papers and numerous books (including de Touqueville’s- cited in Skousen’s book) on how the Republic’s Constitution was written, to standing in awe in James Madison’s library at his Virginia estate (oddly enough called “Montpelier”) to the Vermont writings of Ira Allen, Ethan Allen and Nathaniel Chipman, I feel like I know quite a bit more about both our Constitutions than most. That doesn’t make me any better than anybody else, but I think I can hold my own with anyone in a discussion regarding our founders’ intent. Happy to chat over coffee if you’d like to learn more about me or discuss American/Vermont history.

      But I’m curious. What is it about my concern over the closing of the college libraries that made you think I needed to read Skousen’s books? What’s the connection?

    • Is this the same Charles Wilson (R) of Lyndon who was ‘absent’ when the House voted on gender-affirming care bill H.89?

      Understanding that Mr. Benning likely won’t do so – and while I understand that “It will take hard work but the truth always prevails!!” – if you don’t mind, Mr. Wilson, …please address the points I made in my commentary above, and explain, specifically, what Mr. Benning stated that was ‘well said’ – rather than continue to make vague general assertions.

  3. The proposal of doing away with physical libraries is a strange liberal conundrum. Saving money from public expenditure is not generally a hallmark of the liberal mindset, as they typically refer to it as “investment”. Public library restrooms, including those at colleges have traditionally been used for all kinds of liberal-welcomed activities like gay meetups and IV drug use.

    • Rich: It’s not a conundrum in the social sense. It’s a risk/reward investment decision. Are these libraries reasonable investments given today’s technological access to digitized information. It’s far less expensive to provide a few computer terminals and microfiche readers than to fill an entire building with books sitting on shelves collecting dust, books that can be shared, physically, with an online request to a library that has them.

      What else happens in those buildings is a separate topic entirely. The dystopia you mention occurs everywhere management is lax. Not just libraries.

  4. Mr. Benning’s plea to save Books is more than ironic, it is comical.
    As a member of the VTGOP Platform committee, he and several others including myself worked for months on the language that stated what a member of the VTGOP would stand for.
    During these meetings Mr. Benning argued vehemently against some of the language. Stating ” His constituents ” wouldn’t support them.
    His votes for Prop 5 and Article 22 proved who he represented.
    The written words meant nothing to Mr. Benning then.

    They mean nothing to VTGOP Chair Paul Dame and Rules Committee Chair Koch either. Because they supported Mr. Benning, Phil Scott and seven other VTGOP Representatives that voted for Prop 5 and Article 22.
    Maybe Benning, Dame and Koch can get together in their Big Tent with Madden and read to each other.

    • Well Mr. Sexton, I know I did not represent YOUR interest in the Article 22 question. But to imply my vote wasn’t supported by my constituents is nonsense. The voters in the Caledonia District (my district as it existed prior to re-apportionment) voted in favor of Article 22 by a vote of 13,257 in favor to 2,220 opposed. In fact, every town in my district voted overwhelmingly in favor, as did every town in the State of Vermont. The Secretary of State’s elections website will give you the votes for every town. I’d contend I was quite in sync with the desires of the voters in my district.

      • Seems you missed the point Mr. Benning, you voted to accept the Platform and represent yourself as a Republican. But you chose to ignore the language of the Republican Platform. Just like two thirds of the VTGOP. One of the reasons the Republican Party in VT. is dying.
        Try ignoring the Speed limit on the Interstate and tell the Trooper you really don’t care what the law says. Your Constituents don’t like Speed limits.
        I never said the voters in your district didn’t support your vote.
        When Conservatives look for someone to represent them, you stuck your middle finger in their face.
        It was never a matter of you representing what I wanted. It was self identifying as a Republican on your part and then proving you really aren’t.
        It is a fact that every town in VT. voted for Article 22.
        I will never stop fighting for the unborn and what I stand for. Because despite your boast that the numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of killing the unborn and sexually destroying children because of the Marxist agenda, I will actually do what I swear to.

  5. Judging by these comments, I will have to surmise the cabal has won: they have divided us and turned us against each other. I will quote another Book:

    “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11)

    “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

    “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

    Frankly, I had to look these quotes up as I am no Bible scholar. I don’t care what understanding any of you have about your relationship with God, that is personal.

    But these quotes are pertinent to what I see going on here.

  6. I’d like to elaborate further on Mr. Bennings participation in this forum. We should all be thankful he is willing to engage. Disagree as we do, from time to time, it is this discussion, and its specificity, that is important for the continuation of our Republic. Criticism comes with the territory. I, for one, will continue to focus on the issues, including the art of argumentation, and try not to take it personally.

    And again, in this regard, I challenge Mr. Benning’s colleagues and supporters to join us with equal specificity. It is on forums like this where the tenants of our Constitutional Republic are most evident.

    • To clarify, I quote your lead comment:

      For example, he writes “…no technology can replace the quiet solitude and person-to-person educational learning experiences found in a library environment.” Really… says who?

      Of all the topics brought up, this is the one that irks you the most?

      Apparently, intellectual bankruptcy is not limited to the far left. I’m not sure if you understand that almost every knowledge base you or your kids have access to through online media is not only suspect to editing but also suspect to placement in such a way the average person could not discern that placement from their own intentions. Discovery is a reinforcement tool. “I found this online article about the benefits of marxism, therefore it is my discovery and my discovery makes me feel good”.

      Physical books, on the other hand, are much more difficult to place inside someone’s field of view. They are also much harder to edit.

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