THE CONGRESSMAN who loved Flaubert was nothing compared to Rep. Charles J. Carney (D-Ohio). Rep. Carney loves books so much that, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the other day, he has taken over 60,000 free surplus books from the Library of Congress in the past few years. Mr. Carney sends most of them to Ohio schools and libraries, but he has acknowledged that he keeps some at least temporarily. According to the Plain Dealer, he has actually amassed thousands of tomes in his Washington and Ohio offices and has given some to his relatives besides.
The average, unenlightened citizen might think that this is wrong. And it's true that an average citizen who takes books from the Library of Congress is liable to be, well, booked. But congressmen are different. It's their library, after all, and they have arranged to get first crack at the 1 million or so surplus and duplicate books that the librarians disgorge every year. While Mr. Carney takes the prize for volume, many of his colleagues also help themselves - and get points with the home folks by making free books available to schools and other worthy beneficiaries.
It's one more congressional self-indulgence and it ought to stop. The Library of Congress is a great public institution, not a literary pork barrel for congressmen. Its surplus books should go to public libraries for public use. They should go there directly, courtesy of the United States government and the American taxpayer, rather than as a form of political beneficence on the part of individual congressmen. As for Rep. Carney, he should empty out his shelves and get those volumes into proper circulation. His colleagues should insist on it.