Editorial Board: Start Banning Controversial Library Books and Soon You Have Nothing Left | Editorial
STAR-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD
In many ways, libraries are our purest democratic institution. They are repositories of knowledge and learning that we can use to engage in our government and our community. They are places of social gathering for people of all ages and from all walks of life. They are accessible to all members of our community, regardless of their rank or income level. And all of these benefits are offered free of charge at entry.
Recently, Wyoming libraries have become the center of controversy over which books should reside there. Specifically, small but noisy groups of critics in Gillette, Cheyenne and now Casper have complained about the books about sexuality, gender, race and poverty housed in the youth sections of the library. These critics claim that the information in books about sex education, for example, could corrupt young minds or expose them to ideas their parents disagree with.
But these critics fail to realize that libraries act as guarantors of information that some would seek to suppress. And seeking to ban or hide books is contrary not only to the purpose of these institutions, but also to one of our most cherished values: freedom of expression.
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The First Amendment protects our freedom of speech and prohibits the government from restricting our rights to say what we think or share information. This protection is most essential when it protects against attacks against information that some might find unpleasant or unpleasant. After all, it’s not popular thoughts that people seek to silence.
A library has volumes of information with which some might disagree. It could be sex education for some people. Others might oppose children’s books on guns or hunting. Some might disagree with the books which claim that fossil fuels – the foundation of Wyoming’s economy – should be phased out due to climate change. Some dispute certain religions, political philosophies or self-help guides. If we deleted every book that someone objected to, what would we have left? A few volumes on puppies and nothing else.
It’s more than a little ironic that some of the same people who have complained about the government’s involvement in their lives are now saying that the government should decide for them what information they should have. Rather than making an individual choice about what their children can borrow from the library, they want to cede parental responsibilities to the school board or county board. Instead of instilling good judgment in their children, they want the government to deal with the situation. What an antithesis with the fundamental values of our State, which consider independence and freedom as essential to our way of life.
It’s likely because these censorship demands are in opposition to our values of free speech that Wyoming County commissioners and school board members have so far pushed back attempts to ban books. They should be commended for resisting calls for government censorship.
Moreover, it is naive to think, in the age of the smart phone, when each of us can summon all the information we want from a device that fits in a pocket or purse, that a library book poses a serious threat. Do they honestly think that a child or teenager with questions about sex can’t access information in a million different ways on the Internet? And would you prefer them to search for it online or at the community library? Which is likely to be the safest and most accurate?
If we are to live in a free and open society, we need to understand that sometimes we will be faced with ideas that we don’t like or approve of. If libraries are to exist for everyone, then we have to accept that what is displeasing to one person is useful information to another. If we decide to ban uncomfortable ideas of places where knowledge resides, we will quickly find that those places no longer have any value.