Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's on the (Public) Library Shelf?

40 years ago, when I was but a lad, I went and saw the brand-new movie “Fahrenheit 451,” based on a Ray Bradbury novel of the same name. It was a disturbing look at a future society in which books had been banned, because they encouraged independent thinking. People were encouraged to “nark” on their neighbors who were illegally harboring books. Rather than put out fires, the “firemen” had the duty of torching huge piles of confiscated books.

Jump forward 40 years. Has the book-holocaust begun? You’d think so, based on the Idaho Statesman editorial (July 11, 2006).

They are applauding the Nampa Library Board for standing their ground and keeping such books as The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex on the shelves. (Supposedly on the high shelves, out of the reach of curious kids. Yeah… right.)

In the movie, entire books were committed to memory by lovers of literature, so that they wouldn’t be lost. (You can burn a book, but not a mind.)

Do you s’pose somebody volunteered to memorize The Joy of Gay Sex?

“Banning books is ultimately more dangerous than even a shocking book's content,” the Statesman warns. “It is one of those actions for which the overused phrase ‘slippery slope’ is wholly appropriate.”

Is removing a book from a library’s collection tantamount to a ban, or do I observe a lot of unnecessary hand-wringing?

Australia is a rather progressive, freedom-loving country. They just banned two books, Defense of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan, which encourage Islamics to become suicide bombers. Are those books available at the Nampa Public Library, if I can reach the high shelf? Shouldn’t they be?

A notorious tome from the Vietnam era is called The Anarchist Cookbook. It provides detailed instructions on the manufacture of explosives, drugs, telecommunications hacking devices, etc. Why isn’t it available at the Nampa Public Library? (Boise’s library has a copy, but you need to ask at the reference desk.)

Henry Ford – the famous American industrialist – had a series of essays published under the title, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. Mr. Ford obviously was a very smart man; why can’t we read his ideas at the Nampa Public Library? (Boise has 4 copies in storage.)

Wesley Swift had some interesting ideas. He preceded our own famous Idahoan, Richard Butler, leading the so-called “Church of Jesus Christ Christian.” Swift, whose father was a Methodist minister, believed that all non-Aryans are “mud people” and unlike white folks, do not have a life in the Great Beyond. He wrote numerous books, including The Blue Tunic Army of Christ, Give Not That Which Is Holy unto the Dogs, and Who Crucified Jesus Christ?. Those should probably be in Nampa’s “religious” collection, no?

So, what’s my point?

I’m betting that Nampa library director Karen Ganske makes decisions every day on what should and shouldn’t be available at the library. (If not, she’s overpaid and should be replaced by some of those illegal immigrants, who’ll check books in and put ‘em back on the shelves for $2 an hour.)

The Statesman editorial asks, “Should a library provide safe harbor for ideas — even those some patrons consider shocking or objectionable? Or should a library become a homogenized home only for the materials no one protests?”

While their craftily-worded inquiry tends to ennoble us and make us declare, “Of course we’ll choose freedom!,” perhaps the true answer should be closer to that homogenized, non-offensive collection, when taxpayer dollars are being spent to maintain the collection and the building. (You can’t really blame Nampa’s taxpayers for balking at purchasing The Joy of Gay Sex. Taxpayers also said “no” to using public money for “art” exhibitions featuring masochistic gay sex photos and crucifixes submerged in urine. The taxpayers are kinda fickle that way.)

There is no guarantee in the Constitution that you have the “freedom from being offended.” I’m not easily offended, except by people whose mission in life is to be offended by every possible thing, and complain loudly about how offended they are. “Political correctness” has done far more to stifle expression in the past 30 years than any library book ban. But I can't blame anyone for wanting to keep objectionable materials away from kids, or not wanting to use taxpayer dollars to purchase such materials.

Not having a book at a library is NOT the same as banning a book, and I’m sure the folks at the Statesman realize that. But making that distinction would take a lot of the wind out of their sails.

Perhaps the ACLU could open a little storefront library just up the street, where children and unkempt, shifty-looking men in overcoats can go and check out the stuff that’s deemed “too hot to handle” at the public library.

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