[This op-ed has been corrected]
Those two words normally don’t go together.
Libraries are sanctuaries where people can quietly read, whether for study, research or just relaxation. Battlegrounds are, well, quite different.
But in the war of ideas, the battle for the minds of men, the library is a central field of conflict, because the library is a repository of ideas.
To some extent, this is as it should be. But we have reason to believe that many of those who run the libraries, especially those who determine what books shall be in them, have an agenda: to use their power of book selection and display to change public opinion. For those who doubt this, simply consider that the current president of the American Library Association is a self-described “Marxist lesbian.”
The focus of these ideologues seems directed toward children to change their beliefs and attitudes concerning environmental policies, international relations, American exceptionalism, and especially LGBTQ issues.
Consider what happened in Alabama during 2023:
The Autauga County Commission appointed a new member of the library board in what some decry as an encroachment upon library board authority.
The Madison County Public Library was the center of controversy in August over a proposal by Kirk Cameron and BRAVE Books to present patriotic and religious books to the library.
In several other jurisdictions, parents have attended board meetings and read portions of the objectionable books to the board and audience. When told by officials that they may not read such offensive language, they responded with comments such as, "So this book cannot be read before this adult audience, but it is readily available for children in the library?" Then they sat down, having made their point very effectively.
Although the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) has floated withdrawing from the American Library Association, it has largely backed local libraries against the concerns of parents and others. Falling back upon the old scare word “censorship,” the Alabama Library Association (ALLA) adopted a resolution Aug. 30, 2023, saying that ALLA “has watched with concern the growing number of organized attempts at censorship and suppression,” declaring that ALLA “categorically rejects all efforts to censor or restrict access to materials from any library, based on content,” because “concerted efforts by groups who disavow racial equality, self-determination, and/or gender identity and expression, undermines intellectual freedom.” (Note how ALLA conflates opposition to transgenderism and abortion with racism – if you don’t want your kids exposed to transgenderism, you probably belong to the Ku Klux Klan!)
Something in the American psyche rebels against censorship. We are independent people who don’t want anyone, especially someone in government, telling us what we must and must not read. With a few exceptions such as obscenity, the Free Press Clause guarantees my God-given right to write books.
But although the First Amendment guarantees my right to write a book, does it require a publisher to publish it? Does it require a bookstore to sell it, or a library to carry it?
No, a publisher’s decision not to select my book for publication, and a library’s decision not to select my book for display and lending, are not equivalent to a government order prohibiting its publication. In fact, the same First Amendment that guarantees my right to write this column, also guarantees to the “1819 News” editor the right to throw my column into the wastebasket. That is only selective censorship – if it is censorship at all.
But dare I suggest that some forms of selective censorship are inevitable and even desirable?
You engage in selective censorship. Every time you choose one book over another, or decide a certain book is or is not appropriate for your children, you are engaged in selective censorship.
Librarians continuously practice selective censorship. If they didn’t, the libraries would overflow with books. Each year sees the publishing of 500,000 to 1,000,000 new book titles, not including audiobooks and self-publishing. How many books does the average library purchase each year? Several thousand? By deciding not to buy the remaining hundreds of thousands of titles, the library has selectively censored them!
As they practice selective censorship, librarians employ criteria as they determine which books to buy and which not to buy. What criteria? Literary quality? Interesting to library patrons? The book’s political, theological, or philosophical perspective? The personal tastes of the librarians? Do they automatically exclude certain categories, such as religious books? This is selective censorship.
In these current library battles, the question is not whether selective censorship will take place; that is inevitable. The question is, who will make these decisions? Librarians don’t own libraries. The public owns them, and librarians are public servants.
Should elite committees of librarians have sole and final authority to decide which books the library will carry? Shouldn’t the people, the true owners of the library, have some input about the library’s content? Shouldn’t parents have some input as to which books will be on prominent display to their children when they visit the library?
Rights are like muscles; they atrophy when left unused. Parents, citizens, stand and fight for your right to control your libraries. Don’t let our public libraries become enemy territory!
Colonel Eidsmoe serves as Chairman of the Board of the Plymouth Rock Foundation (www.plymrock.org), as Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy (www.obcl.edu), and as Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law (www.morallaw.org). Those with constitutional concerns may contact the Foundation at (334) 262-1245. Eidsmoe may be contacted for speaking engagements at [email protected].
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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