By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
A few weeks ago, in preparing for my turn to formulate an article for the Reader’s “Back of the Book” section, I thought of our community’s librarians.
I grew up going to the Clark Fork branch of the East Bonner County Library District. The library’s Summer Reading Program was regularly the highlight of my summer vacation. I’ve watched library employees assist with computer literacy, helping senior citizens access their email accounts; I’ve listened to them answer questions about materials, always knowledgeable, patient and kind in those interactions; and I’ve seen this small collection of men and women provide a warm, welcoming space for young children who need somewhere to hang out after school.
I have a feeling that at least some of these instances fell outside of their job descriptions, but nevertheless, they were willing to go above and beyond.
The role that librarians play in the lives of Idahoans — particularly minors — is now the subject of a bill in the Idaho Legislature: the perfectly named House Bill 666, which would roll back a legal exemption protecting librarians, school personnel and similar figures from prosecution in the case that they disseminate “material harmful to minors.” It passed the Idaho House of Representatives on a 51-14 vote March 7, and will next head to the Idaho Senate.
I say the bill is perfectly named because it is, in a word, evil. HB666 is vague in the cruelest of ways. While testimony on the bill revealed that many lawmakers fear “pornographic” material being spread to Idaho’s youth, it is also clear that HB666 is aimed at material related to LGBTQ or transgender people — material that is considered “obscene” in some circles.
Speaking on behalf of the bill was a “curriculum and literary analyst for Family Watch International,” according an article in the Idaho Statesman, which also reported that Family Watch International is categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and known for teaching “the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness and has supported severe criminal penalties for homosexuality both in the U.S. and abroad.”
HB666 is a thinly veiled — actually, not-even-veiled — attempt to silence very specific types of voices. It is hateful, and more importantly, it is unfair for our state’s librarians and educators to bear the burden of assessing what an onlooker might subjectively interpret as “harmful” to children and, what’s more, potentially face legal consequences for their troubles.
For me, HB666 hits close to home, and not just because of the esteem I hold for employees of our local public libraries. My mom is a school librarian, responsible for curating and updating her collection to secure books that kids want to read. She taught me the value of thinking for myself, and did not once steer me toward “harmful” concepts — whatever that means.
The idea that my mother would ever purposely spread harm to kids is absolutely wild, and yet, repealing her legal protection is being deemed a worthy use of legislative time and funds. As is often the case under a fear-mongering government, best intentions and good hearts are apparently not enough. The threat of criminalization is being wielded to silence our society’s most well-meaning, intellectually-supportive population.
I hope Idahoans can see HB666 for the horrifying overreach of government power that it is. I stand against this heinous waste of time, and I stand with librarians.
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