Partisan divisions in this country have increasingly led to life-altering fears that ominous threats will lead to violence. Just this week, Rep. Adam Kinsinger revealed violent threats made towards his family.

During the House Select Committee hearings, powerful testimony from election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman detailed how threats initiated and amplified by the former president radically changed their lives (see my earlier comments about these revelations, here). One by-product of our societal divisiveness is another threat—to diversity of thought and intellectual honesty.

And, it is not only elected officials or election workers who have experienced threats to their lives and their livelihood. There is another, unexpected group of citizens whose lives have often been upended by increasingly ferocious attacks: librarians.

Long considered to be devoted public servants whose wisdom, intellectual integrity and sense of decorum (“shhh, no talking in the library”) would prompt parents and community leaders to trumpet them as an asset to the quality of life in a community, librarians have recently been targeted by self-appointed experts in an effort to limit the selection of reading material available to students and the public-at-large about controversial topics. Violent threats and personal attacks have resulted in added stress on the job, early retirements and firings—along with a dramatic increase in challenges to the books selected for student and/or community reading.

Writing in the New York Times, Elizabeth Harris and Alexandra Alter offer this startling statistic, “Attempts to ban books in the United States surged in 2021 to the highest level since the American Library Association began tracking book challenges 20 years ago…Most of the targeted books were by or about Black and L.G.B.T.Q. people.”

Consistent with efforts by right-wing Christian Nationalists to expunge literature on topics such as race relations, human sexuality or gender issues, the writers quote Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s office for intellectual freedom. “What we’re seeing right now is an unprecedented campaign to remove books from school libraries but also public libraries that deal with the lives and experience of people from marginalized communities. We’re seeing organized groups go to school boards and library boards and demand actual censorship of these books in order to conform to their moral or political views.”

In another article, Harris and Alter stress, “As highly visible and politicized book bans have exploded across the country, librarians—accustomed to being seen as dedicated public servants in their communities—have found themselves on the front lines of an acrimonious culture war, with their careers and their personal reputations at risk.

“They have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation.”

The writers continue, “Some of the conflicts have gotten so heated that community members have tried to seek criminal charges against librarians…The moment has been especially jarring because when pandemic restrictions were in place, they were hailed as heroes for delivering books and laptops to students at home. Now, said Audrey Wilson-Youngblood, a library services coordinator in Texas, librarians are seen by some as villains. ‘It felt like a knife in my heart,’” she said of allegations that library staff were doing harm to students.

“Ms. Wilson-Youngblood resigned last month from her position at the Keller Independent School District because of the toll the stress was taking on her family. She had worked there for 19 years.”

Attacking librarians! Can you imagine? This is the state of the world in which we now live. How sad.

Thanks, everyone, for your faithful patronage of these posts. It is much appreciated. I will be on vacation next week; I’ll resume posting in two weeks. Stay safe! B

One thought on “Unlikely Warriors

  1. First, a shout out to all those librarians out there. My spouse and I seem to have collected a number of friends and relatives who have taken up the profession over the last 20 years. If they had read the job forecasts back then, they’d all be writing computer code today. Instead, librarians have been reimagined, and taken on roles that were not foreseen. They’re teaching real internet skills to a generation that thinks they’ve got it down, learning Farsi to help reach local immigrant populations, and even finding ways to use library facilities to provide a daily shower to homeless folks. They’ve found a way to prosper in hybrid environments, accountable to both public authorities and private boards. It’s a wonderful story of adaptation and reinvention.
    Of course, there have been book-burners and book-banners as long as there have been books. We certainly deplore the threats, but it’s a losing argument, as are the threats on public officials and judges. Those folks aren’t always right, of course, but they do have the means to adapt. We can only hope that their many constituents can do the same.

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