Though our schools and public library systems already take great care to ensure that age-appropriate materials are in kids’ hands at the right time, a very vocal minority wants you to think differently. Much time was wasted this last legislative session “protecting” Idaho youth from bogeymen and needlessly villainizing dedicated professionals.
During the House floor debate HB 666 (which would have potentially criminalized a librarian checking out a book to a minor), House members were shown a “secret” folder behind closed doors and amid much pearl clutching. This folder was said to contain concrete proof that Idaho kids were being exposed to harmful pornography and that librarians must be held to account.
Let me blow open the contents of this secret folder: some of the pages were from literary classics, some of them came from bestselling family books on navigating puberty, some of them were single stanzas from poems or a single page from a graphic novel with no context to the overall theme of the story. Most of the pages came from the teen and even adult section of the library, where much more scandalous content has existed in the pages of romance novels for decades (no offense to fans of the romance genre).
It’s easy to get outraged when cherry-picked pages are taken out of their original work. One could be shown a singular passage from the Bible and similar outrage could occur. By no means am I suggesting that the Bible be banned, but without context it is easy to misconstrue literary value.
Now, six weeks after the legislative session ends, we see the Nampa School Board bowing to intense political pressures and removing books from shelves. The censorship is bad enough, but the process was egregious and deeply un-American. Following established policies, a committee of staff and parents was in the process of reviewing a list of books to determine whether they should remain on the shelves or not. Then the Board stepped in and unilaterally removed books permanently without receiving any recommendation from the committee. These works were not salacious novels or pornography; many are considered classic literary works. Hopefully other school boards and library boards will show greater resolve in the face of a vocal minority and stick to policy before reacting impulsively.
Throughout history some of the greatest threats to authoritarianism have always been books and ideas. Simply put, book banning and censorship is an ineffective and lazy response to ideas and people that scare us, and it’s been happening for centuries; as has our consistent response to censorship. It is human nature to seek out what is forbidden, we need look no further than the tale of Adam and Eve to remind ourselves of that.
While looking through that “secret folder” as well as the list of banned books, it was not lost on me that many of the passages depicted “others”, particularly LGBTQ people. I refuse to believe that the mere existence of people different from me qualifies as “harmful.” That’s a very dangerous definition of harm.
The job of protecting your child from exposure to ideas and books you don’t like falls solely on your shoulders, not on a librarian’s. You are absolutely free to keep your family as protected as you’d like, however you are not free to extend that protection beyond your family unit because now you are censoring your neighbor’s freedom to explore provocative topics. What you may find objectionable enough to keep your child from reading might not even raise the eyebrow of your neighbor, and that is what is beautiful about our freedom.