Why are some people so scared of books?
People are agitating to have books they object to pulled from school and public library shelves, with some of those books reported to law enforcement as pornography.
There have been book burnings reminiscent of dark times in the fairly recent past — events that were the inspiration for Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” about a world in which firefighters actually fight literacy, by setting fire to books.
Most recently, and locally, there’s been a call for Sarasota County to discontinue membership in the American Library Association and the Florida Library Association, which critics claim are trying to advance a “woke” agenda.
Neither association tells the county’s school or public libraries what to put on their shelves.
The Sarasota County Commission heard last week from advocates of disassociating from the associations and is scheduled to listen today to people defending membership.
We hope the commissioners show themselves to be the defenders of our libraries we need them to be.
The stated motivation for all these actions is a desire to protect children from potentially harmful materials.
We certainly agree that not all library materials are suitable for all library patrons. And we fully respect the right of parents to decide what materials are and aren’t appropriate for their children.
But the operative word in that sentence is “their.”
In general, we believe that in a free society, rules should be no more restrictive than they need to be to achieve an agreed-upon goal. That’s the best way to avoid infringing upon the rights of others with different points of view.
Banning your kids from reading certain books is your right. Banning a book so other kids can’t read it isn’t.
In reality, what’s behind these efforts to restrict access to books isn’t merely parents looking to protect their children. It’s a group of people who feel entitled to impose rules based on their politics and religion on everyone’s children.
Making rules is the job of government officials, not self-appointed censors. And when those officials are performing that function, we expect them to do what’s in the best interest of all, based on facts and research, not their personal agenda.
The irony is that the anti-library push is coming from the same people who shouted during the pandemic that they don’t co-parent with the government. However, they’re perfectly happy to abandon parental responsibility and use the government to tell other people what to do, to achieve their own ends. It’s a double standard we’ve seen in other contexts.
Schools and cities have had libraries for decades without anyone attacking them for the social crimes some people believe they’re committing. In fact, their critics grew up patronizing the libraries they’re now seeking to constrain.
And anyone who thinks libraries pose a greater risk than the internet of providing their children access to materials they find objectionable must never have gone online.
The easy and obvious policy is, whenever possible, not to ban books but to limit access to them. Librarians are very familiar with the concept of age-appropriateness and have no interest in exposing kids to things they shouldn’t see.
And it avoids the prospect of books that critics like coming off the shelves because someone else considers them offensive.
Though there’s probably a double standard for that.
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