116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Public libraries play many roles. They are, of course, a repository for a diverse set of books and other materials that can be accessed by patrons. They’re also a community center, a place to access technology, a site for providing services, a venue for meetings and gatherings and more.
Unfortunately here in Iowa, they’ve also become a political flash point.
The Gazette’s Gage Miskimen reported this week on the sad sage at the Vinton Public Library, where two directors have resigned in the past two years amid complaints about a “liberal agenda.” The library has some LGBTQ books in its children’s section, but not enough religion-themed works, according to critics, and has hired LGBTQ staff members. The library also displayed children’s books by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris but not enough Donald Trump books.
Some library patrons checked out books they see as objectionable and failed to return them.
It’s worth noting that the library also has the support of local residents. The library board responded to these criticisms by approving an ethics policy that says the board will respect the decisions of professional staff and will not be swayed public pressure. It’s the right call.
And Vinton is hardly alone. Other public and school libraries across the state have faced similar criticism over LGBTQ-themed books and other issues. These calls for books to be removed are coming mainly from the political right, from people who see agendas and conspiracies among the library stacks.
Of course, these views are being fed by opportunistic Republican politicians, who see a “sinister agenda” in making certain materials they’ve dubbed “obscene” or “pornographic” available in libraries. Some even talked of creating criminal charges for teachers and school staff who made “obscene” books available to students.
These books are not obscene by any reasonable or constitutional definition. And the only agenda being followed is the core mission of public libraries, which includes providing free access to books and other materials for all members of the community. Trained staff use their professional judgment to make sure collections reflect the needs of patrons and to guard artistic freedom from government interference and political pressure from the loudest critics.
Instead of second-guessing and heaping politically motivated derision on libraries, we should be valuing them as a unique and important public institution. If that doesn’t make sense, there’s probably a book that can explain it. Check it out.
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