The Next Chapter In The Battle Of The Books: Librarians

First, it was book bans. Now the Silencers are threatening librarians with jail time.
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Not long ago, scholars, bibliophiles, publishers and reporters fretted over the future of libraries as they began closing in the face of dwindling public funds and an increasingly digitized world. Those observers could never have imagined a future in which books would be banned and librarians could be sent to jail.

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill last month that would make librarians criminally liable should a minor happen to be exposed to books and content considered by some — police, presumably — to be obscene.

So now, instead of targeting books, we’re targeting librarians.

Passed by a vote of 85-12, House Bill 4654 revises an existing law by removing two exemptions that protected schools, public libraries and museums from criminal prosecution. The bill next heads to the state Senate.

It’s all about child safety, according to Brandon Steele, the delegate who introduced the revisions.

“I’m here to protect our young people and make sure they are not put in a vulnerable position where they are presented with pure pornography in an effort to groom them and prepare them for a potential sexual abuse or sexual assault,” Steele said.

Right. Because your local librarian isn’t just “a dealer in books and two-cent fines and pamphlets and closed stacks and the musty insides of a language factory that spews out meaningless words on an assembly line.” He’s a pedophile!

Steele provided no examples of pedophile librarians engaging in any “grooming” in state libraries.

Actually, my first thought when I started reading the bill was, “Wait, what? West Virginia has libraries?

Yes, but maybe not for long. (Oh, I kid West Virginia.)

But how nice to see West Virginia lawmakers laser-focused on such a pressing issue in a state suffering from a chronic teaching shortage — currently at 1,500 for certified teacher positions — and the fourth-lowest average teaching salary in the country.

Just wait till that first lawsuit about why the library has a copy of a Bible, especially with all that begattin’! 139 verses of it in 17 books worth! I’ll bet you didn’t know Adam lived to be 130 and begat himself a son. No Viagra back then. Talk about a miracle.

West Virginia State Code defines obscene matter as anything “an average person applying community standards would find depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexually explicit conduct and a reasonable person would find taken as a whole lacks serious literary artistic political or scientific value.”

By that definition, it seems Tony Hodge, co-chair of the West Virginia Republican Party, is anything but reasonable in declaring that opponents of the bill (all 11 Democrats in the House and one Republican) “want obscene material available to children.”

Yeah, well, you know how those Democrats are! They want to turn your kids into gay, transgender drag queens. Just look at what they were doing in the basement of that pizza parlor in Washington!

Tony may not be reasonable and may even be devoid of reason altogether. But he might be average when defining today’s average Republican extremist condemning imaginary demons who then cast their November vote for a pussy-grabbing convicted sexual abuser. Try and justify that cognitive dissonance to the kiddies.

If West Virginia isn’t going far enough, the state of Georgia is pursuing another angle. Besides drafting its own bill criminally targeting librarians, the Georgia State Senate has passed a bill that would forbid libraries in the state from receiving money or other professional services from the American Library Association, and ban libraries in the state from using tax dollars to purchase materials from the Association.

The ALA provides critical support to local libraries nationwide through grants, library materials, professional development and access to a national network of peers. It does NOT advise purchases for libraries. Local boards comprising community members appointed by local government officials make those decisions.

Several states, including Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Texas, South Carolina and Wyoming have already cut ties with the ALA.

“They seem to be a very radical left organization,” said Georgia Republican state Sen. Larry Walker, who says he introduced the legislation after hearing that his local library had applied for and received a $20,000 grant from the ALA to buy books focusing on diversity equity inclusion and LGBTQ issues geared toward young adults.

“I am a pretty tolerant individual,” said Walker, “but this is too much.” In a statement to local television, Walker accused the ALA of turning local libraries into “political indoctrination centers for radical agenda and promoting aberrant sexual behavior and socialist anti-American rhetoric.”

He admitted he hadn’t seen or read any of the “radical” material firsthand.

Better check under his crawl space. Just in case.

One wonders how such a bill might play out in reality when many libraries now have a self-service kiosk where you can digitally check out a book. If a kid checks out a book that some parent deems obscene (say, The Diary of Anne Frank), will they just prosecute whoever is on staff at the time? Will librarians have to lock kids into a glass-enclosed youth section?

How far are we going to take this? Earlier this year, the Escambia County School District in Pensacola, Florida, removed over 1600 books from its shelves, including five dictionaries, eight encyclopedias and “The Guinness Book of World Records” because they defined or mentioned the word sex. School officials determined that the books violated Florida law HB 1069. (A publishing house, authors and parents have filed a lawsuit against the district.)

Florida has been on the leading edge of book-banning controversy. Last year, Florida’s Duval County School District pulled over 1 million books for review, including a biography about Roberto Clemente, one of baseball’s greatest players, and other titles about Latino figures, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Good move in a state where more than one-quarter of the population is Latino.

In the same year, the publisher of a school textbook about Rosa Parks had scrubbed any mention that she was Black. Just a SLIGHTLY crucial part of her role in America’s civil rights movement, no? How’d that happen? The publisher, Studies Weekly, said their curriculum team overreacted in their interpretation of HB 7, the Florida law that restricts what can be taught to students about race, color, sex or national origin. Understandable given the litany of draconian bills the state passed.

The state’s Department of Education said any omission of race would contradict the Florida law. Yet, a parent told CNN she went online and easily accessed the Rosa Parks lesson plan that omitted mention of her race.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had previously called accusations he was banning books in Florida a “hoax,” but in a press conference last month admitted that the bans were out of control. Who was at fault? He “blamed teachers, school officials, ‘random people,’ community members, ‘bad actors,’ and the media ... everyone except for the person most responsible: himself.”

What a mess. The publisher blames the law, the state blames the publisher, a mother finds a version the state said it would never permit, and the governor is upset about the consequences of the law he championed.

Say what you will about the Nazis, but at least their fascism was a lot more organized.

There’s an irony in all this.

If there’s a place where silence meets solitude in perfect confluence, it’s the library. You can hear the silence. Every sound interrupting that silence is magnified. A cough, a sneeze or a sudden burst of laughter. Even the whispers of one person to another coming from a distant table. Those interruptions enhance the beauty and one’s appreciation for the silence you hear in a library.

And now it’s the books being silenced.

Books shouldn’t be banned. They should be explained.

Efforts like this are nothing more than a rationale for laws that restrict someone else’s access to free choice, and purge books and ideas that might challenge strict conservative values. It all seems driven by a group of people reacting to people who aren’t like them, who don’t think like them, and they don’t like people who aren’t like them and don’t think like them.

They say they don’t want their children exposed to all that ickiness even though their children have probably done plenty of it already, and likely know more about it than their parents do. It’s called the internet. It’s been in all the papers. Read any newspapers lately? Are these parents that naive or just terrified that their kids won’t be like them when they grow up?

If you don’t want your precious snowflake to read some book, tell them not to read it. Problem solved. If they disobey you and read the book anyway, maybe that’s just you being a bad parent, or maybe that’s just kids being kids. Either way, it shouldn’t affect my or my kid’s ability to go to a library and check that book out.

Has there ever been a moral panic that didn’t look ridiculous in hindsight?

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