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Friday, October 30, 2015

Do Our Libraries Lend Us The Truth?



In the past decade there have been 5,100 challenges to books in schools and public libraries, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.  How should schools and public libraries respond to such requests in a way that balances rights and realities?

Let’s say a library carries a communist manifesto and the good people of a very conservative state like Texas ask the library to remove the copy, on the grounds it encourages people to abandon capitalism, that it’s simply un-American, subversive, and anti-patriotic propaganda.  Should the library give into the demands of a few – or even a majority, even if it risks hurting donations and funds to the library?  

We’d hope the library would have a backbone and encourage people not to be scared of ideas or information that may contradict the standards of the majority.  Some libraries may fold, not able to withstand the consequences of going against the loud protests of its constituents.

What if the library stands firm but protesters decide to hold boycotts or to steal copies of books they object to?  How does an educational institution respond to bullies and thugs?

What happens when a library won’t even acquire books it knows will be met with derision by a certain segment of the population?  The public wouldn’t even know that its library punked out before there was even a debate.

We ask a lot of our public libraries and schools.  We not only ask that they make smart and efficient decisions regarding their resources – funds, space, and employees – but that they have knowledge, courage, and vision to acquire books and materials that will best serve the community. Sometimes the role of the teacher or librarian is to share opposing views or alternate paths, to weigh the views of the minority and to give voice to the forgotten, hidden or abused.  To get people to live a full and balanced life requires that we expose them to everything and to let the best ideas of the day meet the existing needs and demands of the moment.

History is filled with incidents of society changing its mind.  Abortion, gay marriage, birth control and women being able to vote were all illegal a century ago. Blacks couldn’t ride in the front of a bus.  And on and on.  Beliefs, politics, and business strategies change.  Laws change. Librarians and school administrators know that they can’t lobby for a particular ideology or political party when determining its book collection.  It has to be neutral, open-minded, and secure in the notion that truth always wins out.

We don’t suddenly become a communist country because we read a book on it any more than one becomes a killer or rapist after reading a thriller.  That isn’t to say books don’t influence, because they do, but they do for a reason.  Books seed ideas to its readers, but it’s up to the masses to choose, over time, what it will do with its knowledge. The more that more people know – about anything and everything is the best way for a society to grow, live well, and pursue higher goals.  To leave it in the dark and to demonize things without reason and debate is where things turn for the worst.

Ok, so it’s easy for me to say these things without looking at specifics, but let’s examine it all.  No matter what’s in a book, it’s up to the reader to determine its value, its worthiness, its accuracy.  What we need to do is educate readers on how to read – how to question, analyze, and understand what’s being fed to them. A smart reader will not be easily fooled by public relations tactics, hidden agendas, unsubstantiated data or knowing the difference between fact and opinion.  

Further, the best way to counter ideas that we disagree with is to have a fact-based opposing document. If you disagree with a communist manifesto, write a book supporting capitalism or trashing communism.  Write a negative review of a book.  Protest peacefully – not one’s right or access to read the book – but against the views stated in the book.

Is there any book that should be banned or not acquired by a library?  It gets tricky and we need to distinguish things.  If a book has not been acquired by a library because it has to choose one book over another and it would sooner invest in books that support positive things vs. one saying Jews must be killed or that women should accept domestic violence, you couldn’t blame the library.  But then when it chooses not to include books that show alternate viewpoints political positions, or lifestyles, you begin to get concerned.  We try to distinguish that a book encouraging violence or breaking the law lacks the same merit or right of having books on atheism, communism, and gay love. but we cannot really make such distinctions. we must let ideas be available for all to see.

I lean towards saying a library should include everything.  Equal access to all ideas is the only way to encourage good values and to both start and conclude a debate against alternate viewpoints.  If a book says kill blacks and serve God by torturing gay people we would be repulsed by such ignorance, hatred, and vile.  But I would not support a library from removing such a book.  It needs to be there, at the extreme end of a spectrum of tolerance.  If you remove them, the book on communism fills the edge.  Remove that, and soon the book that says it’s okay for a woman to wear pants instead of a dress will become the edge. Eventually, we’ll all fall over this edge.

I know those who read this will likely agree with me.  How could you not?  You’re intelligent and likely one who values ideas, reasoning, and truth. But how many of you will stand up for the book that says nasty, vile, hate-filled, or politically incorrect stuff?  There’s a difference between support, indifference, and opposition towards -- or for -- something.  

For books – all books – in order to support their power to help us discover and see the truth we must allow all books to exist and to have access to the shelves of our soul.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015


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  3. Excellent Post! I responded to your question about the freedom of speech in libraries via twitter , but I wanted to comment here as well. I feel so strongly about the Freedom to Read that my blood boils when books are pulled from shelves. Public libraries usually win challenges thanks to the backing of the ALA, but school libraries struggle more. I know of at least two challenges to school reading lists that were waged this summer and in both cases the schools caved. As a parent, you have every right not to allow your child to be exposed to a book that makes you uncomfortable, but how dare you tell other parents that their child shouldn't read the book either. In each case, the children could choose other books, but the parents were not satisfied. The funny thing is if you want a child to read a book, ban it. Then they will be sure to pick it up. Intellectual freedom is a daily battle fought on the front lines by librarians everywhere, and we will never stop fighting.

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