the problem of insufficient library service to the formerly living

Michael McGrorty writes \”

The intent of my proposed paper is to examine the problem of insufficient library service to the formerly living, and to propose solutions for their benefit. \”

The proposal follows…

Michael McGrorty writes \”

The intent of my proposed paper is to examine the problem of insufficient library service to the formerly living, and to propose solutions for their benefit. \”

The proposal follows…

Research Proposal: Improving Library Services to the Dead
Michael McGrorty

School of Library and Information Science

San Jose State University, Fall 2001


At the present time, there are many more people who have lived than are currently living. A study by the Population Reference Bureau puts the figure of human beings alive for the past 50,000 years as approximately 105 billion, with the current number of living humans at about six billion. It is therefore obvious that the ratio is heavily weighted in favor of the formerly alive. On the other hand, this analysis incorporates certain racist assumptions, such as the definition of \’human\’ as meaning only the creatures we understand as Homo sapiens, and excluding all previous branches of the hominid family. There are, of course, many more deceased People of Color and Women than Caucasian men in the great roll of the formerly living, though their history is obscured by the lack of permanent recordkeeping and the destruction by conquering cultures.

The Problem

Despite the great numerical superiority of the dead, the modern library does practically nothing to serve this mass of disadvantaged patrons. There are no special programs to encourage the dead to make use of current library materials, and few attempts to take advantage of this vast untapped cultural resource. Perhaps the worst aspect of this situation is that there are virtually no library literacy programs aimed at the formerly alive, despite the fact that most of them will have passed the term of their existence in historical periods when reading was a skill kept from the masses by the power of class distinctions.


The crisis of the underserved dead arises from a number of sources, but generally in the tempocentrism of the dominant contemporary \’liveist\’ culture, which fosters a worldview almost entirely ignorant of the dead and their issues. With the exception of a few spirit mediums, few living people choose to have relations with the non-living. The main difficulties faced by the formerly alive in their use of the library are:

a. Access problems related to limited mobility. Many of the dead are unable to make use of library facilities due to rigor mortis or the loss of muscle tissue from decomposition. Libraries need to design facilities which take into account these challenges.

b. Myths, disdain and institutional discrimination. Because few librarians know any patrons and have few colleagues who are actually dead, the profession persists in perpetuating stereotypes and myths about them, to their detriment.

c. Because of their relative immobility and certain appearance issues, the dead are often subjected to the same forms of prejudice and discrimination as the homeless, including expulsion by unenlightened staff.

d. There is an almost complete lack of local funding for library programs devoted to the non-living.

e. The American Library Association has lent its weight to the side of discrimination, refusing to establish an office, forums or other representation for dead library professionals, and failing utterly to serve the needs of the dead patron in any manner.

f. Owing to the dominance of the commercial publishing industry by white, living men, there are few fiction selections or non-fiction books devoted or relating to the lifestyles of the deceased; and practically none which do not reflect the prevailing ignorance or prejudice against the condition.

g. There has been a recent wave of censorship aimed at books relating to necrophilia, dead-gay and dead-lesbian relationships, and any book which aims to portray the non-living as equal and worthy participants in society. Apart from this, nearly all available biography presents the dead as suspended in a sort of perpetual \’live\’ existence, rather than as having become members of a proud deceased race with stories worthy of a separate relation.


1. Increase general awareness of the proportional superiority of the dead, and of the predominance of People of Color and Women within that group.

2. Provide funding for library programs which promote dead-awareness and inform younger readers of the valuable presence of the dead among them.

3. Force ALA to create a Dead Forum and a Public Library Roundtable of the Dead.

4. Encourage local understanding of post-life issues and appreciation of professional colleagues and patrons among us who are nearly dead.

5. Extend outreach efforts to increase literacy among those non-living whose origins in oppressive circumstances, (i.e., slavery, serfdom, wife-status) prevented their learning to read in any language.

This concludes my proposal. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

M. McGrorty \”