The Left's Dangerous Book Retirement Strategy
This past weekend, CNN reported that a bunch of Dumb Rednecks (our term, not theirs), in McMinn Country Tennessee banned the comic book Maus.
Back in 2021, CNN was all about banning books they didn't like:
What the left does is brand something as racist, like Dr. Suess, then they don't use the words ban books, they use softer terms like "retire" or "update" collections. CNN slaps the offensive label on books like Little House on the Prairie, then you can't even argue their premise.
But perhaps the most important consideration a librarian has is the wants and needs of their readers -- is a book reflective of the community the library serves? Is it still popular among readers? If a librarian decides a book is "no longer serving the needs of the community," it may be weeded out, Caldwell Stone said. -CNN
While one book was banned in one county in Tennessee, library districts on the opposite side of the political spectrum across this nation are simply tossing Little House on the Prairie in the garbage. They claim they aren't "banning" books or "burning" books, just moving in a different direction. But make no mistake, no matter what language they use, they are using coded language to ban books.
Our argument is that neither Maus nor Little House should be banned. If your argument is that Maus should be banned, but not Little House..... I don't think you're very smart and I don't think I can reach you.
If you think Little House should be banned, but not Maus.... I think there may be a teachable moment here.
Now, first of all, because of the magical internet, book banning is mostly a symbolic gesture. If you live in McMinn County and want to read Maus, just go online and buy a used copy for pennies on the dollar. Very few books are "unavailable." But, more importantly, let's focus on poorer districts in our country. Since I live right down the road from the Cleveland Municipal School District, let's use them as our example.
The Cleveland Schools are 20% White, 70% Black, and 10% Other. Not all of those students have disposable income for books, so limiting those student's libraries is a more impactful gesture in our conversation. Let's say a local librarian uses the CNN template and says 'my students don't need racist books like Little House on the bookshelves, besides, what do my minority students have in common with white girls in the Great Plains 150 years ago?'
99.7% students of the Cleveland Schools identify as straight, gay, or bisexual. .3% identify as transgender. Using the same exact argument, a conservative librarian, in the same school system, but at a different school, could say "my students don't need anti-religious books on the bookshelves, besides, what do my minority students have in common with transgender populations that account for much less than 1% of the population?'
FRED HUNT IS HATE SPEECH
See? You can play the book banning game in a number of ways. Just because the left's way is more subtle and nuanced, doesn't mean it's not restricting speech, no matter how much you dance around it.
You know what? Politics really does ruin everything. Back to our Librarian example. Instead of the Cleveland Local Schools, let's use the real life example of the city of North Ridgeville down the street from my house. When I moved to North Ridgeville, their antiquated library was in a building slightly larger than a bank. As a growing suburb, the voters passed a levy to build a brand new library.
The new library was surprisingly spacious, but what it wasn't, was filled with books. After a few years, I remember multiple "Friends of the Library Sales," and an expansion of meeting spaces at book shelves expenses. When the pandemic hit, I was shocked at how few books actually remained on the shelves. Libraries have been re-imagined as community centers.
So in the North Ridgeville example, you have an old, frayed and stained copy of Little House on the Prairie. You are forced to throw it away and now you have a conundrum. Buy a new copy or buy a newer, different book to update your collection. In theory, libraries grow and grow, but in reality many are shrinking and shrinking. There is nothing insidious about your intentions, but you are constricted by smaller budgets. What's on the shelves in neighboring communities weighs into your decision as what to stock as area libraries are forced to pool resources.
Computers and meeting rooms occupy a greater space per square foot in today's library than books, at least in North Ridgeville.
A more pressing question may be: How do you make a library a library again?
While I was writing this, I was listening to the Buffalo, New York band Dreams from Gin.
Here's yet another philosophical question for a library. I have never physically held a Dreams from Gin CD in my hand. I have only heard Dreams from Gin on Pandora, Bandcamp, and YouTube.
As the CD platform continues to die, do libraries continue to carry CD's or do they phase them out all together? The CD's they do keep, should they be the most popular ones or obscure finds? As a kid, I remember renting good albums from my local library, not specific books. One summer, at age 9, I fell in love with Supertramp's Breakfast in America album.
Despite subscribing to streaming platforms at our home, we still get occasional movies from the library. Our local library has a good cross section of DVD's, it's the closest thing to a video store that you're going to find today. How's the video store business model working? How about the local record store model? Our local library is down to, maybe, 50 or 60 CD's total. My collection at home is more expansive than the library's. Library personnel should come to my house for music questions.
What's my point? In an era of ebooks, streaming, and the cloud, is a library's obligation to the past or to the now? Speech is not just books, but many formats of media.
Instead of bickering over which books to keep on shelves, we need to talk about how to make a library system more expansive with content from both the past and the present. How do we do that when libraries themselves are being cast as relics. In a digital age, who is advocating for the library itself, instead of using the library as a pawn in the culture wars?