Internalizing a Librarian's Altruistic Value: A Self-Witnessing Report On Book Conservation

By Lili Young
June,20, 1983


Today, when the word "altruism" is said, people think of helping others. Surely, they say, they are altruistic, because they are such sensitive and feeling people. However, when the time comes to help someone who really needs it, they don't help because they didn't want to get "involved." Such was the case in Queens, New York, when Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered and not one of the thirty-eight people who were witnesses of the beating lifted a finger to help her.

A case such as this one is in the extreme sense. There are ways that a person can be altruistic while taking it for granted. There are also times when people are altruistic, because they really do take others into consideration. For instance, when someone doesn't smoke where other non-smokers are sitting, or when someone doesn't litter, or even in the case of borrowing library books. It becomes such a hassle when a library book is borrowed, because there is always the due date that haunts me. It gets to the point where I have to mark it on my calendar. I was always told to return it on time, or else. I suppose that there are times when I think of myself and don't care whether the book is returned on time or not. But I have wondered about people who keep the book I'm looking for past the due date, and I feel guilty about not returning it on time.

Krupat's chapter six discusses altruism and how or why people act the way they do when someone needs help. Altruism is a spiritual drive which deals with the "good neighbor" attitude or feelings that people have for others, and consideration or conservation of other things that don't belong to them.


This paper is on book conservation. The information on the topic was shown in a slide show by Dr. James and Diane Nahl during class. The material shown dealt with the improper way that books are used and explained that these were the causes for faster deterioration, and it also showed the correct way that the books should be handled and stored.

Dr. James explained that we should record as many facts as we could remember after the slide show, and use them as our results. The subject of the slide show did not only pertain to the proper care of books, it also had a deeper meaning to it. It delivered the message that we should always handle other people's property with care, to make sure that it will be there for others to use. There are people who think that they don't have to be careful because "it's not mine" but they should think of how they'll be depriving others of its use if the object is destroyed.

This is a type of altruism, caring for something because you want others to get the benefit of using it, just as you did. It's something like not hoarding free samples that you get at the store so that another shopper can have a sample. It's also like keeping your belongings on one seat of the bus so that someone else can use the other seat. Making things available for the use of others is an altruistic act, because, according to Swedenborg's definition of altruism, it is doing useful things for society, putting the other first, but also using your intelligence in order to maintain and achieve your long term goals.


In the Library book conservation slide show that was presented to the class, I learned a few facts about book handling that I was not aware of before. These were things that I have seen many other people do, but never thought it to be the wrong way based on the fact that all those people couldn't be wrong. For example, removing a book from the shelf by pulling it from the top of its binding is the incorrect way and wears the book's binding out faster. The correct way is to push the books on either side of the desired book and to take hold of the middle of the book's binding to pull it off the shelf. I was also unaware of the proper use of a book when copying material out of it by using a Xerox machine and also about placing thicker bookmarks (e.g. pens, pencils, etc.) in the books. I realize now, that the improper use of books destroys them faster so that they have to be taken off the shelves to be repaired, thus depriving others of its use.

Another thing that would deprive others of its use is if it was not returned on time. A lot of people are threatened with the thought of having to pay a fine for an overdue book, but still neglect to respond. It doesn't seem to be too high on their priority list. The reflective self would probably say "what's the difference if I keep the book a little longer?", and then the general tendency is to forget about it until its too late. "I'm too busy now, haven't got the time," the library is so far away, I'll return it the next time I go back," or "no one will miss it if it's a little late," are all excuses that our reflective self tells our spiritual self.

In cases like these, that's all it boils down to, our reasoning vs. our altruistic values. One may think that the altruism would win out over the reasoning, because of the old cliche "good guys finish last," but in today's society, that wouldn't seem to likely. People are more into themselves, they're more selfish than people have been in the past. Maybe it's because of our growing technology and space age, the average American has turned his/her attentions to his or her self. Therefore, people were or seemed to be more courteous to wards one another, they were even more willing to help a stranger, so one knew that they could count on their neighbor.

Something as petty as caring for a library book or returning it on time would have been routine. That was before people started getting lazy and letting their reason win over their altruism. In order to care for something that isn't ours, or even something that is, their must be a considerable amount of respect involved. After all, if you don't respect, you abuse.

The slide show revealed that many people are ignorant as to the proper way to handle books. People have to be more aware of things like this, in order to keep the past and present as well as the future that is recorded in the books well-preserved.


In reviewing this report, I found that the altruistic values are not strong enough to argue with reasoning, because of the way our society has changed There is a considerable amount of fear that dominates the lives of so many. For this reason, people don't want to get involved, which of course, is a pity, because I'm sure that they would want someone to help them if they were in need.

Taking the initiative to comply with the standards in a system such as the library's system for returning books shows that a person is responsible and caring. It also reflects the type of society we live in, today.

Our spiritual drives try to push out towards our spiritual cognitions, trying to stick with our beliefs and truths, always trying to do what's right. But the spiritual drives are heavily influenced by our rational drives which sometimes dissuades our altruistic personality to turn and run instead of stay and fight. There are also altruistic acts that we do and don't even realize it. which I think is a good sign, because this shows that we still do care about others enough to be considerate to them.

Returning library books on time and helping others may mean that I have respect for others, but I think that there is a fine line drawn between what is really an altruistic act and what appears to be an altruistic act but is deceptive because it's done for personal gain. For example, helping someone because you're only trying to impress someone else, which would fall in the category of using someone for personal gain.

I see, however, that I must try to improve myself in this area of altruistic values in order to better understand why people do what they do when someone needs help, or when it comes to things such as caring for the property of others. I have learned that it is the reasoning in the reflective self that can change the initial thought of the altruistic values in the spiritual self.

Now, in my daily round, I tend to study my reactions when I'm doing my chores or working. I ask myself "did my reasoning get the better of me this time?" I don't blame people if they're in a situation where fear is a major factor that stands between them and the person in need of help, because I would think twice, maybe even thrice before I lifted a finger to help. I think that studying my actions and the causes of them will help me to better understand this concept of altruism and hopefully help me to improve my values in life.

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