Last week’s city council meeting certainly drew a crowd, and while it wasn’t an agenda item, the topic of banning books was certainly the focus of the evening.
A handful of residents implored the council to ban three books from Rio Rancho’s public libraries: “The Art of Drag” by Jake Hall; “Once a Girl, Always a Boy” by Jo Ivester; and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson. Others spoke out against banning books, with one even comparing it to the beginnings of Nazism.
In total, 35 people spoke on the issue.
We’re not here to speak to people’s beliefs on lifestyles and whether certain lifestyles are right or wrong. That’s not our place.
However, the First Amendment is our place. It is the most vital bedrock of our profession, and therefore we take it very seriously. And to us, this is a First Amendment issue.
Public libraries are a space for people to explore a wide range of topics and, in a way, the world. It’s a budget-friendly (and environmentally friendly) option for those who don’t wish (or can afford) to purchase every book they want to read.
Depriving these patrons of literature because some don’t agree with the topic goes against everything the First Amendment stands for and discriminates against those who wish to utilize the libraries’ services. It goes back to an adage that we are seeing more and more these days: If you don’t like it, don’t read it.
We also understand residents’ concerns for children and their wish to shield children from “mature” material. That’s admirable. But let’s not forget that the books “on the chopping block” are stocked in the adult section of the library and therefore are unlikely to find their way into the hands of young children.
As to the argument that there’s no consequence for those under the age of 18 checking materials out, we have to say that’s where the parents need to step in. If the parents find material a child is bringing home from the library disagreeable to their beliefs, it is their job to step in and monitor that. It is not the government’s job to parent and raise children.
We might feel differently if this was a case involving school libraries. That audience is a target audience that is almost exclusively made up of minor readers. In that case, the argument of protecting children from mature material would have much more weight.
As it stands, however, the issue is currently with public libraries, which belong to everybody in the community. Banning books based on a topic some find disagreeable goes against the free speech found in the First Amendment. If that happens, what does it say for the future? Could the freedom of the press be next?
For your sake and for ours, let’s not find out.