Tuesday, March 28, 2023

MY TURN: In defense of libraries and librarians

by STEVE McCREA/Guest Opinion
| March 10, 2023 1:00 AM

Your public library is being challenged by a small number of people in the community who believe the library is "blatantly sexualizing and grooming children." And that the library "encourage(s) the flow of erotica and obscenity."

These trigger phrases are designed to alarm citizens. But are they true? Are there facts that support these statements?

The answer is no.

No one at a library "sexualizes" or "grooms" children. (No matter who defines those terms). Libraries do not "encourage the flow of erotica and sexuality." No librarian requires a minor or any other person to read any book.

It is not the policy or intent of libraries to acquire books that are generally considered to be pornographic.

In the past 10 years two children's books have been formally challenged by patrons. Neither was pornographic. Neither was removed from the library.

Libraries are places where people may go, willingly, to further their education, to read about a variety of subjects and to expand their horizons, among other functions. In short, a place to think, a place to choose.

There are materials in the library that will challenge the sensibilities of just about every patron. Understandably, parents don't want their children to be exposed to material they consider to be inappropriate, sinful or corrupting. Each parent has the right, and responsibility, to guide their child's choice of reading material. When a minor child selects a book to read, it is the parent's responsibility to make sure the reading materials are appropriate. A child who wants a library card can have one issued if the parent consents. By doing so, the parent has access to their child's library account and can monitor the books that are checked out.

Some argue that a child could go to a library without the parent knowing, disobeying parental authority, and read a book that a parent considers to be harmful.

Should the government step in?

No. As a child ages, what is inappropriate for a 9-year-old may be acceptable, even helpful, for a child who is 15 or 16. The best person to judge is the parent.

A parent who considers a book to be pornographic, (as defined by Idaho Code) can challenge it, and, after a series of appeals, a court (the government) will make a decision that will satisfy some and enrage others. That process may work, but it is inefficient and makes books subject to different interpretations of the literary, artistic, scientific or political quality of the work as a whole.

Is there an easier way? Of course. Each parent has the right and the obligation to limit their child's access to books. The concerned parent will make that decision for their child and not some other person's child.

A parent may argue that they don't know what is in any book. If the parent is unwilling to read the book their child selects, there are reviews and summaries readily available online. It's always a challenge to stay ahead of smart kids. But no one said that being a parent is an easy task.

Some parents want to "protect" all children, not just their own, against what they consider to be harmful influences. Among parents there will be different ideas about what is harmful to their children. If the goal is to have every person thinking the same, we will have a society of clones, all subservient to the influence of the dear leader of the day.

Some parents want the government, that uses tax dollars to fund and support libraries, to prevent any child from being exposed to ideas they disagree with or find repugnant.

That may seem to be reasonable until the diversity of citizens starts complaining about books in the library — controversial passages in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Quran, books about sex, books about child abuse, books criticizing former president Trump, books criticizing President Biden, books that contend the United States is a racist country, books that contend the United States is not a racist country, book that have religious themes or anti-religious themes.

Who should decide? Do you really want the government deciding what is available to read? That is what happens in China or Russia and other dictatorships. Who should decide? The parent.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board.

• • •

Steve McCrea is a Coeur d'Alene Public Library trustee.

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