They’re Coming For Those Subversive Librarians…

I regularly read Juanita Jean, The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Shop, to keep up with the governmental insanities we’ve come to expect in the Lone Star State and elsewhere. A recent post reported that a Texas county has joined the battle against those dangerous librarians who are threating…something or other.

Poor Llano County. Some federal judge has just ordered the county to return twelve (yes, count ’em, 12) children’s books to their public library shelves. It seems that the books offended the sensibilities of some adults who object to the racial and LGBT+ issues that are raised in them.

So rather than complying with the judge’s order, Llano County Commissioners are considering an old and accepted recourse: the equivalent of filling in the swimming pool.

Rather than bend to the Feds, the Llano County Commission is studying on nose-thumbing (and nose-cutting/face-spiteing) by closing all of their county libraries.

It’s a really great solution, see. No one can blame them for depriving their children of learning about racism and gender issues if no one in the county can learn about anything at all.

The Commisioners later backed down in the face of ferocious public pushback.

Texas isn’t alone. Republicans all over the country are moving against these purveyors of books with language or ideas that the GOP finds unacceptable. In Missouri, House Republicans recently voted to defund all of the state’s public libraries.  The Republican chair of the budget committee was quoted as saying  that cutting the aid was retaliation for an ACLU lawsuit to overturn a new state law banning sexually explicit material in school libraries.

Apparently,  books and libraries are  “woke.”

Librarians are reeling from the onslaught.In one instance reported by the Guardian, library personnel who had planned to launch a bookmobile in a bus that would visit various sites across town, including three schools, abandoned that plan when a law criminalizing anybody “who makes visually explicit materials available at a school” went into effect. They decided to keep the bookmobile away from schools, noting that violators of the new, nebulously worded law would face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. As one of the librarians explained, “We are unsure on what someone can interpret as sexually explicit.”

The quotation reminded me of a passage in Nadine Strossin’s 1996 book, Defending Pornography. Since “porn” is in the eye of the beholder,  Strossin wrote “If it turns you on, it’s pornography. If it turns me on, it’s erotica.”

Throwing around and misusing vague labels, of course, is what those who have appropriated and misused the label “conservatives” love to do.

Conservative parent groups that formed to oppose masks during the pandemic, only to pivot to the fight against “critical race theory”, have now begun to focus on scrutinizing books, often by and about queer and Black people, and lobbying for their removal from library shelves. Politicians have hopped on the bandwagon, drafting legislation to supposedly protect children against indoctrination and predation, calling out books by name and making it impossible for the people who run schools and libraries to do their jobs. Fringe activists and government officials are taking to social media, holding meet ups, and riling up their bases with reports of indoctrination, propaganda and the supposedly pornographic materials that lurk on the bookshelves of public institutions.

The culture warriors out to terrorize Marian the Librarian are seeing considerable success. In an Urban Library Trauma study conducted in 2022, more than two-thirds of respondents reported encountering violent or aggressive behavior from patrons at their library.

Conservative parent groups such as Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education and Parents Defending Education aren’t the only ones invested in the fight against books by Black and LGBTQ+ authors. Rightwing extremist groups have also adopted the cause. Proud Boys have taken to storming into Drag Queen Story Hour events, for instance, causing serious fear for patrons and librarians.

Lest we give these censors the benefit of the doubt, thinking they are identifying mostly trashy books, it’s instructive to consult the AIA’s annual list of the most frequently challenged books. Among others, recent lists include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

The list as a whole is revealing: challenges are overwhelmingly aimed at books by or about LGBTQ+ people, and books critical of racism. According to Google, the most censored books of all times are 1984, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple,The Great Gatsby, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and
Lord of the Flies.

Twentieth -century political philosopher Alexander Mieklejohn said it best: People afraid of an idea–any idea–are unfit for self-government.