I grew up in libraries.
When I was a little kid, before I could even read, my mom would take me to the Bassett library all the time. I would check out my favorite books over and over again (my apologies to anyone who wasn’t able to check out Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” for the entirety of 1988, that was all me).
When I was in elementary school, my mom started working for the Blue Ridge Regional Library system. Over the next several years, she worked at every single branch at some point. After school each day, I’d spend my afternoon at the library. I would get my homework knocked out and then hang around the stacks, looking at books and pestering the staff.
I met some awesome people at the library. At the Ridgeway branch, I met Shawn, who was working there for the summer in between semesters at Virginia Tech. As a college student who was willing to give a fifth grader the time of day, Shawn was automatically the coolest person who had ever lived. He introduced me to Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series, and he also taught me how to play the card game “Magic: The Gathering.” That second gift probably didn’t do a lot for my social standing as I was entering middle school, but it was still a remarkable kindness.
I remember speaking with Garry Clifton, now the manager of the Patrick County branch, about our shared love of Calvin and Hobbes, and I still remember when he reserved for me a Calvin and Hobbes book that I didn’t even know existed (it was “Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons,” an all-time classic).
I remember discussing favorite Three Stooges shorts with Becky. I remember talking to Barry the reference librarian about sci-fi. I remember joking around with Rick Ward long before he became the director of the entire system. Frankly, if I discussed every person in the library system that I have fond memories of, this column would be too long to fit the page.
I also remember when the Martinsville Library got its very first public computer connected to the internet with a dial-up modem, probably around 1996. It was so popular that there was a sign-up sheet, and you could only use the computer for half an hour before giving it up to the next person. Given internet speeds at the time, that meant you had time to visit one website and download half a jpeg, but nonetheless, it blew my mind. A whole new world had been opened up to me. I feel fortunate to have experienced that amazing transitional period from pre-internet to post, a time when it seemed as though the internet had limitless potential and it was actually exciting to receive an email.
It’s been observed that your local library is one of the last places in America where you can simply exist without the expectation of spending money. It’s also true that the local library is one of our greatest free resources. It’s not just about checking out books and DVDs; you can take literacy classes, or get help writing your resume, or simply have access to the internet, which has transformed from a novelty to a necessary expectation.
And I can say, speaking from first-hand experience, that the folks at your local library believe in the importance of these things. They aren’t working there to get rich. I’ve never seen a Bentley parked in the employee lot.
And this leads us, unfortunately, to the reason I’m writing this column.
According to a news article from the Idaho Statesman published in late August, Kimber Glidden, director of Idaho’s Boundary County Library, will be resigning from her position on Sept. 10.
In Boundary County, a group of “concerned citizens” are attempting to recall four out of the five members of the library’s board after they approved an updated collections policy which stated that the library was going to choose books regardless of potential disapproval from special-interest groups and not place materials on “closed shelves” or label books with warnings.
This collections policy update seemed to be spurred by a handful of folks who wanted the library to ban books with LGBTQ themes, and the whole situation has spun wildly out of control from there.
A group calling itself Boundary County Library Board Recall, with a mission of “protect(ing) children from explicit materials and grooming,” has gone hard after Glidden and the other board members. The library has been hounded with Freedom of Information Act requests and veiled threats. Glidden has been told she’ll burn in a lake of fire and has been baselessly accused of doing terrible things to children. Members of this group have begun showing up to library board meetings, where they stand at the back of the room with their arms crossed, quietly observing the proceedings.
And they show up armed with guns.
Glidden seems like a good person. The only reason she’s waiting until Sept. 10 to resign is because she wants to help finalize the library’s annual budget first so she doesn’t leave the district in the lurch. Even with the looming threat of potential death and eternal damnation, she cares about the library.
The catalyst for this madness seems to be a list of books that’s been circulating on the internet. A number of extremist groups are using this list to bully their local libraries. It’s about ten pages long, and it has a key to let you know the reason the book shouldn’t be at the library. The reasons include “anti-police,” “bisexual,” “drugs,” “gay,” “gender identity or fluid,” “occult,” “racism,” “rape, “sex,” and “trans.”
You know the craziest thing about this list?
Not a single one of the books on it can be found at the Boundary County Library.
You read that right. These armed protestors are showing up not because they want specific books removed from the shelves, but to fight against the possibility that even one of the books may be added to the shelves at some indeterminate point in the future.
These people have lost their minds.
Here’s the thing: libraries buy books that represent all sides of an issue. The same shelf that holds Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” also holds Ann Coulter’s “In Trump We Trust.” Maybe I think that Ann Coulter is a poison on America and should have stuck to her first job accosting Sigourney Weaver aboard the Nostromo. Nonetheless, I would never say that her book doesn’t belong on the shelf at the library.
And maybe I want to go to the library and check out a book about a trans wizard who does drugs and hates the police. If such a book exists, and I sincerely hope it does, I should have the right to check it out. Should a small child read it? Probably not. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to that problem: it’s called “being an even slightly engaged parent.”
In his book “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” Robert Heinlein said that the principle of censorship is wrong: “It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.” If these groups are so concerned about what their children are reading, they should try parenting, not showing up to board meetings with a 9mm.
Over the long course of human history, there have been numerous groups that have banned books, or burned books, or sought to limit the information that the public has access to. No matter what names they call themselves, they’re all the same kind of people, and they all have one thing in common: when the dust settles and we look back on their actions, we have never once considered them to be the good guys.