Mardi Link: Public libraries are places of self-determination, not rhetoric | Lifestyles
You’ve probably heard the term “hybrid workplace” before, as employers try to adapt to the safety and mental health needs of workers exacerbated by the pandemic, while keeping commerce and camaraderie in mind.
Journalists are already good at this.
This is because the articles that readers find useful and important aren’t developed just by sitting in a newsroom.
They flesh out chatting with a stranger in the HomeGoods queue, observing how a judge reacts to witness testimony in a preliminary hearing and, as I have for several weeks now, briefly moving my workspace in the children’s room. departments of several public libraries in the region.
This after a reader sent me an email describing how some members of his community had accused staff at a northern Michigan library of handing out gift bags to teenagers stuffed with “propaganda promoting the agenda homosexual”.
I confess that I was horrified by this news.
When I was a teenager, I spent A LOT of time at the Sage Library in Bay City, and I was never presented with a goody bag.
But seriously, I’m an investigative journalist and I decided to investigate.
I started driving my mobile office to tiny chairs and small tables at Alpena in County Antrim, where I quietly opened my laptop and connected to the free WiFi.
Step One – Google, “What’s the gay agenda?”
Step Two – Learning that it is a term, the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as the authors of a Wikipedia entry and many, many children’s librarians in the area , say it’s fake news.
Freedom for All Americans, a nonpartisan anti-discrimination group, explains it this way: “Notions of a so-called ‘gay agenda’ are rhetorical fabrications by anti-gay activists seeking to create a climate of fear by depicting the pursuit of equal opportunity for LGBT people as sinister.
In my travels, I have heard discussions between patrons and librarians, and patrons themselves, inside the libraries I have visited.
In one, a librarian recounted a parent asking a 7-year-old girl for a particular title to read aloud: “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
In another, a father listened to his preschool daughter explain how some dinosaurs ate plants and some dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs.
In a third case, a homeschooled mother asked a children’s librarian if the library had musical instruments for her teenage son to consult.
The Charlevoix Public Library, like many public libraries in Michigan, has a “stuff library,” which includes items like snowshoes and sewing machines, as well as guitars. No underwater wickerwork to my knowledge, but Charlevoix has a waterproof ukulele! Who knew.
The “climate of fear” referred to by Freedom for All is no joke, however.
The American Library Association says that across the country, small but vocal groups have intimidated librarians, sometimes with threats of violence, or promise to cut library funding, if books these officials deem objectionable are not removed from the shelves.
Most of these books, according to ALA records, have LGBTQ themes. Of the 10 most contested books in the United States in 2021, half were contested for LGBTQ content.
As recently as August, voters in Jamestown, just outside Grand Rapids, decided they’d rather fund the library and then keep books with LGBTQ themes on the shelves.
(A gofundme campaign reaped every penny the library lost, and more.)
In Bear Lake Township, Emmet County, some officials and residents upset with the availability of certain books at the Petoskey District Library, did not request the removal of the books, but sent a letter requesting the library staff to “not promote controversial books to our teenagers and young adults.”
The ALA has begun compiling an annual list of book challenges in the United States. In 2021, this included media reports of 729 challenges, directed at 1,597 books. Many came from parents and most, according to the association, targeted non-white or LGBTQ authors or subjects.
I sat with this stat for a while, listening to a gerbil take its steps on an exercise wheel inside an enclosure near the cash desk of a rural library.
Here is my point of view: those who oppose certain books being accessible to all, have left a note when they protest against the library.
And that word is “public”.
The freedom inherent in democracy means that we have the right to make reading decisions for ourselves and our families. This does not mean that we have the right to make decisions for others and other people’s families.
There’s a brochure about it in the library. It contains very good information on the first amendment. The title? “United States Pocket Constitution.”
The person who emailed me said he supports libraries and wanted to bring my attention to a recent discussion at a city council meeting, where a resident complained about gift bags and books they contained.
Some used profanity and others featured LGBTQ characters, and this resident said he didn’t want that stuff “pushed in his face.”
I went to get these books from the discussed library. Most were in the fiction section, on the second floor, about eleven shelves from the reference desk, listed alphabetically and at knee height.
Looking at their neat backs on the shelves, I wondered if this resident had a library card, and if so, if he had read any of the books he objected to.
Libraries should be encouraged to stock books for people from traditionally marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community, long underrepresented in the choices made by book publishers, book reviewers and bookstores.
The director of the Michigan Library Association recently co-authored an op-ed published by the Washington Post, with Loren Khogali, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, addressing this issue.
“Librarians don’t try to force your children to read materials you don’t want them to read,” write these Michigan residents. “They are fulfilling their role as information professionals charged with upholding the constitutional promise of access to information for all.
In other words, trying to remove a book from a public library because you don’t like it or think you wouldn’t like it if you read it is tantamount to censorship.
An action that the US Constitution finds – and here I’ll use a term overheard in a young adult section of a public library – totally cringe.