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Libraries Versus Communities of Hate

What must it be like to hate your neighbors so much that you want to see them and all mention of them disappear from society? I’ve never understood that, which is one reason why I don’t join political or religious crusades.

You, Dear Reader, might think you’re not like that, and maybe you’re not, but it’s a condition that knows no political or religious bounds.

If you hate groups of people that you’re probably surrounded by and who normally don’t cause anyone any problems – conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, homosexuals, Christian homosexuals, Jews, Muslims, socialists, capitalists, whatever – and you would be happier if they didn’t exist, or at least if they shut up and you never had to think about them, then congratulations, you’re just like these bigots in Iowa who want all LGBT-themed books banned from the public library.

There are groups it’s safe for all of us to hate. Fascists, for example. There aren’t really that many fascists in America, but they want to destroy whatever passes for the free society we live in, so we can all hate them for that. And mimes. We can all agree they’re a danger to society, silent but deadly.

Otherwise, the vast majority of Americans, including those of whatever group you happen to despise, are peaceable folk who mind their own business and just want to live their lives.

And then there are the bigots in Orange City, Iowa, who want to ban LGBT books because they’re “pushing an agenda” “counter to those in the faith community.”

300 people signed a petition to ban the books. That doesn’t sound like many, but it’s about 5% of the population.

Think about what it must be like to know that 5% of the people around you hate you so much they wish you didn’t exist and want to erase all mention of people like you from the public record. And then think that they all profess a religion whose main spokesman commanded everyone to love their neighbors as themselves. And then collapse from the hypocrisy overload.

I agree that the existence of those books is pushing an agenda counter to “those in the faith community” that hate homosexuals so much they want them expunged from existence, or at least public knowledge. They’re right, they just don’t understand why.

They’re stupid enough to believe that the “agenda” is to turn everyone into homosexuals. They believe that’s possible, because every one of them became heterosexuals because of a romantic book they read when they were teenagers. That’s a scientific fact about heterosexuality that most people like to ignore.

The librarians who include LGBT books, along with books of many other perspectives, do have an agenda. It’s pretty boring, though. They want to provide books that represent the diverse array of views found in any community, including the overwhelmingly white, Christian Orange City, in order to better serve the population that pays for their existence. As I said, boring.

The books themselves have a different agenda, because a novel can’t contain the world the way a library can at least pretend to.

There are at least two agenda such books have.

One is shared with many other kinds of books, including popular religious texts or political manifestos: they serve to reinforce the personal or group identity of the reader. That’s the sort of agenda implied by one of the community members who said of gay and transgender teens that “seeing their lives mirrored in the materials is important to them.”

The second agenda is to build empathy and to reduce hatred. This agenda isn’t shared by most popular religious texts or political manifestos.

The Iowan bigots claim they want to ban books that “promote a behavior that is harmful to human beings,” but they’re fooling themselves.

They want to ban books that might make people who read them more empathetic and less hateful towards people unlike themselves about whom they know very little.

You might think that those who profess a religion of love would like that sort of thing, but preaching love is only necessary because so many people are filled with hate.

The bigots believe that the books are dangerous, and they’re right. Books, especially novels, that let you inhabit the worldview of other people can be dangerous. They can fill you with hate or love.

They’re especially good at letting you understand what it’s like to be someone else, and when you find out that other people have desires and emotions not all that unlike your own – that they live and love and fear for themselves and their children, that they work and play and dream of a better world – that makes it a lot harder to hate or fear them.

That’s the “agenda” that the bigots of every stripe hate most about books, the very real danger that people will read them and become more tolerant and understanding of other human beings, because if you do that it makes it harder to remain a member of the community of fear who all need each other’s support.

That’s the thing about fearful bigots, they need support, too. They feel themselves part of a community of fellow fearful, hateful bigots that provides some meaning for their fearful lives, and when they don’t see that community mirrored in the larger society, they get angry and lash out in campaigns like this.

It would occasionally be nice if people like that just admitted their true motives. It can’t be their religion, because their religion can be and is interpreted to support love and acceptance as well.

So it must be something else. Maybe that something is just being human, where we hate or fear what we don’t understand. The most dangerous thing for that hate and fear and ignorance is knowledge, and that’s what books and libraries promote.

It’s not LGBT books the bigots want to ban, it’s the capacity for a community to increase its collective knowledge and understanding. Put like that, they might still admit it, but it would be a lot harder to get people so sign a petition that said:

“We, the undersigned, hate knowledge, understanding, and people we don’t know, and would like our community to have fewer resources that promote our ability to learn.”

Hate and ignorance also “promote behavior that is harmful to human beings.” Thankfully, libraries are around to do what little they can to thwart that behavior.

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Comments

  1. Do these people not realize that books are only one way of disseminating information? They are so dead set on banning books, but these days, you can find out about almost anything online. A lot of people walk around with smartphones, which are basically pocket computers. You can pull one of those out and look up whatever. LGBT fiction and ebooks are there too. And what about those ebooks? Do they want to the library to get rid of those too or do they just see a physical book they don’t like on the shelf and want it gone? If they think books push and agenda, what do they think the internet does?! I just shake my head and roll my eyes when I hear about stuff like this.

  2. Peter Ward says:

    What’s happening in Iowa is much more than a library or LGBTQIA issue. It’s one more example of the principles of intellectual freedom embedded in the Constitution being trampled on. The Library Bill of Rights is the greatest written manifestation of our values as a profession. It is also uniquely American because every word of it is derived from our Constitution, the words we live by. Quite simply what the folks in Iowa are advocating is un-American.

  3. As someone who knows people who live in the Orange City community (including some second-hand knowledge of the original person who circulated the petition – a good friend had him as a professor), I wanted to clarify some things that have unfortunately been blown out of proportion in the course of the reporting of this story. The original petition called for these books to be put in their own special section of the library with labels marking them as LGBT materials. At no point did the original petition call for the books to be removed from the library. I’m not saying I agree with that suggestion or think it would be wise for the library to follow it – I just wanted the facts to be out there. And a friend who attended the community meeting held at the OC public library about the issue said it was “surprisingly civil”. The whole thing is clearly pushback from the ultra-conservative community about the Pride event that took place in Orange City last year, but the number of people who would want the books to be banned completely is actually much smaller than the amount who signed the petition.

  4. Just for clarification, the petition did not call for the banning of LGBTQ books from the Orange City library. It called for consideration of having some sort of labeling for those books directed toward kids, so that parents could make informed decisions. I’m not saying that is okay either, but just wanted to clarify that the author of the petition did not call for banning of the books.

  5. anonymous coward says:

    What about when the library community IS the community of hate?

  6. Yes, that is correct. Thanks for clarifying this.

  7. I must say, being a Christian and working in a library myself, I find that attacks on the community, in any form, is not the heart of God or the Christian community. Unfortunately, there are those that will glom onto Christianity just because they are “American” or to twist the Bible to suit their needs. Unfortunately, librarians also tend to have the habit of isolating groups, and being polarized in a neutral environment.

    While I do believe that the LGBT community is living in sin, I DO NOT condone hatred towards anyone, even those in the LGBT community. Hatred is committing of murder in one’s heart, and therefore hatred of another is sin. That being said, I think there is a fine line being danced on by all parties involved. As a Christian, we should not be attacking others. We SHOULD be loving everyone. As a librarian, we should be neutral. We should protect the rights of others to have the content they request, but we should not be pushing ANY kind of agenda, whether it is hatred against “Christians” in the wrong, or promoting a particular lifestyle.

    I find that those that speak against intolerance often are exhibiting the very behavior which they speak against. They become intolerant of the intolerant.

    LB, you wrote:
    “It called for consideration of having some sort of labeling for those books directed toward kids, so that parents could make informed decisions. I’m not saying that is okay either, but just wanted to clarify that the author of the petition did not call for banning of the books.”

    I think that information has its place. There are obvious reasons we do not subject children to all content and ideas. Unfortunately, there are even some adults that can’t function much better than children when it comes to content. I respectfully disagree with you about the labeling of books. Parents/people SHOULD always be able to make informed decisions. People should not strip away a person’s ability to parent. I prefer to not blindly subject myself to things I don’t want in my life. I am careful about the movies I take in, and there are some great resources to use to find out what I can expect in the movie. I also try to be careful about the books I read. However, reviews don’t offer much in the way of a forewarning like we get with movies. Just the other day I had to stop reading a book that looked interesting because the first chapter dove into some unexpected content. If I can’t trust the content that I take the time to read, how on earth can I subject my child to reading things I don’t have a clue about? There must be some common ground for everyone to know what they are going to be getting into. Reading should be enjoyable, not a risk.

    It is the policy of our library, and most likely others, to not parent the children of our patrons, yet over and over again we step in the way of parents trying to raise their children. Privacy issues and personal freedoms have clouded the world of parenting. Would I prefer that some books were not in my library? You bet. But that is my opinion, and I don’t have the right to squelch others. But neither do libraries and authors have the right to blindside people by holding back on information that would be helpful. The rights of everyone to have access to what they want does not supersede our rights to not be subjected to unwanted content. Do I think we should give EVERYONE us much information as they need to know what they are getting into. ABSOLUTELY.

  8. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    It’s my job as a Librarian to make sure a collection represents the diverse array of viewpoints on a given topic in a way that is equally accessible and respectful. The real agenda of special labeling, segregated sections, etc. has always been to intimidate, shame or marginalize those who are interested in a particular topic, which in my opinion isn’t more civil, just more insidious.

    …and just as an aside, who on earth ever told you that you have a right not to be “subjected to unwanted content”??? You have a right to change the channel, close the book, leave the room, live in a cave, whatever you want to do, but you do not have a right to demand that the world ensures you only encounter content that you find personally acceptable.

  9. @Chris –
    As a Christian, as a librarian, and as a parent, I prefer not to subject my children to stares and whispers and “concern” from the check-out desk because they want to read, say, a sweet book about penguins that has an “informational label”.

    As a Christian, as a librarian, and as a parent, I prefer not to indoctrinate my children that certain sexual orientations are so particularly “weird” and “dangerous” that books about them have to be segregated in a special section of the library (why not special sections for books about people of particular races? or religions? or nations of origin? or income level? or dietary preferences? You get the idea)

    And as a Christian, as a librarian, and as a parent, I prefer not to expose my children to other Christians and especially not to other librarians whose reaction to “unexpected content” in an otherwise “interesting” book is to run away and hide, rather than to learn and love.

    YM, of course, MV. That’s why we don’t label and segregate books. Or people.

  10. @Frumious

    ” The real agenda of special labeling, segregated sections, etc. has always been to intimidate, shame or marginalize those who are interested in a particular topic, which in my opinion isn’t more civil, just more insidious. ”

    You make a false statement that all desire for labling is to intimidate, shame or marginalize. Not everyone has the same intent. And to state otherwise is false and insidious in itself.

    “…and just as an aside, who on earth ever told you that you have a right not to be “subjected to unwanted content”??? You have a right to change the channel, close the book, leave the room, live in a cave, whatever you want to do, but you do not have a right to demand that the world ensures you only encounter content that you find personally acceptable.”

    So, let’s remove ingredients and all other information from food packaging, and let’s see how that goes. Just because someone doesn’t want to be exposed to peanuts doesn’t give them the right. You have the right to pick a different unknown food, put the fork down, not walk into the store, live on only bread and water, whatever you want to do, but you do not have a right to demand that the world ensures you only encounter food that you find personally acceptable.

    And before you try to use an arguement about health over entertainment, mental health is just as important as physical health. If you disagree, look at the news. We’ve been careless long enough.

    @hapax
    I FAIL to see how a small label on the spine of the book will instigate stares as opposed to the cover or title of a book itself. If reading a book about homosexuality is alright, then why should a child be concerned? The very fact that you would say this demonstrates that there is more of an issue with judgement from others than providing information. In fact, as a Christian, shouldn’t you be less concerned about what others think?

    Also, I don’t know what libraries you visit, but most libraries divide books by subjects. And really, who said anything to begin with about dividing the books? Wasn’t this all about a label on the spine?

  11. People Pleaser says:

    Since when did it become the job of the library to thwart behavior in society? I agree with Chris. Libraries should be neutral. To do anything else is to promote bias. Provide content and let me decide what to do with it. Don’t push it on me. Don’t tell me how to think.

  12. “It called for consideration of having some sort of labeling for those books directed toward kids, so that parents could make informed decisions.” So, following that logic . . . perhaps all books that have sad endings should be labeled (so you’d know they might be upsetting). Then, let’s extend that – maybe books that have anything sad in them should have a label. Let’s extend that even further — let’s label books that have anything provocative in them, like a character who is naughty, or a character who won’t do as they’re told. Let’s label those because, you know, children might get ideas. We want to make sure that The Cat in the Hat isn’t having any undue influence, to be sure. Where the Wild Things Are might be just a bit too much for a child, right? And geez, any of Judy Blume’s books might lead to some awkward conversations. We should find a label for those, too.
    I’m with hapax. If you want to know what a book is about before you allow your child to touch it or check it out, whip out your phone, pull up Amazon or Goodreads, and look it up. You can make the choice to personally screen books for your child, and that’s fine —- but you can’t expect that the rest of us want you, or anyone else, to screen books for everyone else’s children.

    The thing is, books can provide solace and understanding and comfort. They can provoke a reaction, and provoke questions (and yes, sometimes those questions can lead to awkward or difficult conversations). I would rather tell a child, “Well, that’s a good question. Let’s find some information together,” than “You can’t handle that. I’ll let you know when and if you can handle that. And good luck dealing with things when you’re at school and hear other kids talking about stuff.”

  13. Let’s be clear librarians hate certain people/ideas and ban conservative ideas whenever they can. I recently caught librarians bragging on Facebook how they banned “No Go Zones” by Raheem Kassam. I published the evidence (linked under my name). The response was to, within hours of my reporting on the gleeful censorship by librarians, delete the posting and all comments therein.

    On the topic of LGBT, given the homophobia within ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, let’s not pretend ALA cares about LGBT issues except to the extent such issues can be used to promote ALA’s own interests.

    When it comes to censorship and LGBT bigotry, ALA itself is a participant. So anything it says on those topics is likely merely cover.

  14. >all books that have sad endings should be labeled (so you’d know they might be upsetting).

    Agreed. Make it a dead dog. DEMCO probably has a “pets” label that you could just apply upside down.

  15. I have never seen so much label phobia in my life. Librarians, whose job it is to classify books, afraid of a subject. You will label books all sorts of ways…classify them…apply subjects. But you let the what ifs shrivel you up.

    Do you know that there are libraries that already label their LGBT books? Hmmmm…….I don’t see any upside down dog stickers anywhere. Don’t see any SAD stickers. The labels haven’t incited any riots as far as I can see. Librarians like to peddle their fear for their own agenda. The very thing they are afraid of is already proven to not be the end of the world. But they treat it as if it is. Librarians are overstepping by deciding what is right for society.

    Shelve the books. Supply the books. But stop telling what to think, what to fear, and how to raise my kids. It is NOT your business. Meet the demands of your community, and don’t BEAT them.

  16. We label AND SEPARATE mysteries, westerns, romance, sci-fi, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Spanish, graphic novels, etc., all in an effort to make the materials easier to find. LGBTQ labels AND a section of their own COULD have a positive outcome in making them easier for people to find, especially those people who prefer browsing over subject searching in the catalog.

    I don’t assume everyone checking out books on witchcraft is a witch, and I wouldn’t label a person checking out and LGBTQ book either. We like to make everything a big deal when it isn’t.

  17. Let's look at censorship in the workroom too says:

    While the idea of banning books should be antithetical to those working in the atheneum I have found that more often than not when talking about censorship today, the call for censoring collections is more often found in the workroom than from the general public. The “woke” librarian has learned that while on the surface there is a need to oppose censorship, esp when its cis-gendered white Christians conservative calling for the books to banned, that in fact censoring collections is actually a good tool to use in advocating social justice in the library. I can only speak anecdotally, but I’ve had many exchanges in the workroom of libraries where librarians were enraged at their collections and were advocating censoring materials, by removing them from the collection or hiding them behind service counters or by silently re-cataloging them so they become lost in the stacks away from like-minded subjects, based solely on that librarians personal views. This is done, you know, to bring “balance” to the collection. Sadly, this form of censorship, in the name of the progressive common good, is often shared by library administrators and so while we get upset in public over such silliness as this call to segregate or ban LGBT books many know that this desire to oppose censorship is just public performance being conducted by a virtue-signaling troupe of librarians, mainly YA types, who are just fine with quietly removing items that they deem offensive.

  18. There’s a difference, though. Mysteries, westerns, romance, sci-fi, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Spanish, and graphic novels are generally viewed as morally-neutral categories. As is obvious from a lot of the comments in this thread, LGBT topics are not viewed in the same way. As a lesbian teen, I would have been *terrified* to be seen looking at books a separated and labeled LGBT section, and as a YA librarian, I know that many of the LGBT teens I serve feel the same way. Just because you personally don’t make assumptions about your patrons doesn’t mean that other library workers have the same courtesy.

    The presence of a book in the library is not and never has been an endorsement of that book’s content — or, for that matter, a condemnation of that content. The presence of a book on the shelf is not an advancement of any kind of agenda. People who are worried about what their kids read can go to the library with their kids and look at the books for themselves, or go to Amazon or Goodreads or Common Sense Media and read about the books. It’s not the library’s job to parent our patrons’ children.

    However, it *is* our job to have a collection that reflects the diversity of our users. There are LGBT people in every community, whether you see us or not, and we deserve to have books relating to us in the library just like members of every other demographic. Sticking our books in a stickered shelf ghetto is not merely insulting; it also represents a barrier to access for an already underserved and marginalized population. I don’t think you understand that being gay in America is *frightening*. I was bullied viciously, both verbally and physically, for my homosexuality in high school. I have friends who have been ostracized, cast out by their families, driven to suicide, and in one case even murdered, all because of something that we cannot change.

    The hatred and lack of empathy for me and people like me that is apparent in this comment thread is appalling.

  19. This is a good point. I hadn’t thought this through like this before.

  20. We actually had a local middle school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club write us a very compelling letter asking us to label our LGBT+ related materials in order to make them easier to find without having to ask for help, which can be really intimidating for them. We won’t be putting the books in a separate section, but we are experimenting with labeling them now and we’ll see how it goes.

    As a related example, a library branch that I used to work at did have a special LGBT+ section, as it was located in a neighborhood that was the heart of the city’s gay community.

  21. Frumious Bandersnatch says:

    You make a false statement that all desire for labling is to intimidate, shame or marginalize. Not everyone has the same intent. And to state otherwise is false and insidious in itself.

    Of course. It’s always a completely innocent attempt to protect the children, or the sensitive, or the morally superior, or whatever, from coming in contact with an idea they might find upsetting or threatening. It’s never, ever about indoctrinating people as to who or what you want them to be upset or threatened by. …and drawing a false equivalency between information about homosexuality and information about food allergies, then immediately linking it to mental health issues? You really don’t see the problem with that?

  22. I’ve heard of this, too, and even seen hints of it in a group on Facebook I’m in. I don’t post there often because they are so ‘progressive’ and I’m what they hate: white, female conservative christian. That scares me a lot because if I move to another library, a bigger one in a bigger city, am I going to be surrounded by others who want to ban books they don’t think are ‘progressive’ enough? I may not agree with a lot of authors, but I think their books deserve to be on the shelves, too! And I’m not going to remove a book from the collection just because it holds a different world viewpoint than I do!

  23. @ Frumious Bandersnatch:

    “Of course. It’s always a completely innocent attempt to protect the children, or the sensitive, or the morally superior, or whatever, from coming in contact with an idea they might find upsetting or threatening. It’s never, ever about indoctrinating people as to who or what you want them to be upset or threatened by. …and drawing a false equivalency between information about homosexuality and information about food allergies, then immediately linking it to mental health issues? You really don’t see the problem with that?”

    What I see is cowardice. Librarians taking something simple as a label and turning it into a soapbox. Turning an analogy into false equivalency. Black and white thinking with phrases like “It’s always” and “It’s never”. If it is ALWAYS a completely innocent attempt at doing something that gets twisted into something it shouldn’t, are you implying that we should “never” do something that might be helpful to some groups? EVEN if it might be helpful to the group that some people here are crying foul for? Because obviously those that are fighting for the LGBT in this post are not completely right either. It has already been expressed that there are some in the LGBT community that would welcome the spine labels. Just like those that like finding other subjects of interest.

    If I can keep myself out of such narrow thinking, and be willing to try something without fearing the next person that comes along and twisting it, can’t we all? Or do you have to instantly run and cry foul the moment someone mentions the word ‘label’? What ever happened to trial and error rather than just assuming the worst and never trying?

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