Saturday, March 02, 2024

EDITORIAL: Censorship: Same book, different cover

| February 9, 2024 1:00 AM

Gather ‘round and hear a story about stories.

This one is about how a group of people tried to keep a book off a public library’s shelves.

The book was so offensive, so potentially harmful, that many residents implored the library director to block it or, at the very least, keep it under the counter on a request-only loan basis.

The library director, who knew many of these townspeople and called them friends, gave the issue much thought. He consulted library staff, who supported his decision to put the book on the shelves. So did the library collections committee, unanimously.

Applying public library principles of free access to information and intellectual freedom did not go well for the library or its director. Under waves of scathing criticism, the library director turned to the American Library Association, seeking a letter of support. The ALA offers that service to libraries facing censorship issues.

The ALA answered with silence.

All of this occurred in Blue Hill, Maine, in 2021. The previous year, Blue Hill voters supported Joe Biden for president by a 35-point margin, but its library serves a broader community that The New York Times describes as “a blend of liberal, conservative and none-of-your business, all of which helped its library resist political proxy battles like those roiling the nation’s libraries.”

But along came “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” by journalist Abigail Shrier. Among the book’s conclusions is that teens, being young and under pressure from peers and social media, are not adequately prepared to make life-altering decisions on gender transition surgery.

Blue Hill Public Library, founded in 1796, did not buckle under pressure, keeping “Irreversible Damage” on its shelves. Friendships were shattered. Divisions surfaced. But by the end of the year, the controversy had run its fevered course.

Our story about stories doesn’t yet have a happy ending on a national scale. Many public libraries are under attack, some from outside but the more insidious assaults occurring from within by their own trustees.

Blue Hill Public Library director Rich Boulet’s conclusion, according to The New York Times article, was this:

“Intellectual freedom or the freedom of speech isn’t there just to protect ideas that we like.”

Applied universally, that concept could lead us all to the chapter about celebrating freedom. 

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Here’s a link to the Times story by Elizabeth Williamson: