Libraries are also sacred spaces of the human race

And no library is made better by exclusion

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

“Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.”

Mark Twain, on any and all works by Jane Austen

Count me among the non-fans of Jane Austen. Despite this, I seem to accidentally haunt her haunts, or maybe she haunts mine. Somehow, every time I’ve gone to England, I’ve bumped into some place where she lived, some place she slept, some place she wrote, some place she ate, some place she was born, some place she died. 

I never liked her books, and despite having been to (apparently) every place that ever mattered to her, I feel no connection to her whatsoever. She annoys me, and the fact that she annoys me so much annoys me.

Do I wish to ban Jane Austen’s works? Do I agree with Twain, that any library would be made better simply with the exclusion of Austen from the first row of the fiction stacks? Does my annoyance of her oeuvre lead me to the tyrannical notion that no one else should ever even breathe her name? No.

I must disagree with Twain. No library is made “fairly good” by exclusion. The entire point, purpose, function, value and necessity of a library is inclusion. It is by definition a collection. It is the amassing of the literal externalization of the internal life of the species. 

By my reckoning, among the greatest crimes and tragedies in human history were the repeated assaults on the Great Library of Alexandria by a succession of imperialists and religious zealots of various stripes until its final demise in the first centuries of the Common Era. 

We probably wouldn’t have needed to have a Renaissance if the ancient accumulation and preservation of text-based knowledge — which is known to have begun as early as 3400 BCE, almost immediately as writing was being developed — hadn’t been dispersed or outright erased by political tyrants and religious bigots. 

So count me among those who feel that libraries are every bit the sacred space of the human race as churches — which are historical infants in comparison to libraries — and even more so than those that only have one book on their shelves. 

The current “debate” over “obscene” or “inappropriate” or “pornographic” materials in libraries is the essence of bad faith. It is no “debate,” it’s a baseless moral panic ginned up by the same kind of authoritarians and fanatics who have hid their obsession with social control behind a mask of piety or patriotism — or both — since they put the Great Library to the torch and ensured the Western world would spend the next 1,300 years trying to relearn most of what it had already known. 

The contours of the back-and-forth over this issue are as simplistic as they are tedious and sinister. However, Boise Democratic Rep. Steve Berch wrote one of the most incisive analyses of the ongoing statewide assault on libraries in an opinion piece that was published in newspapers and other media sources around Idaho earlier this month.

“Make no mistake about it. This issue is not about pornography in libraries. It is about using legal intimidation to advance divisive ‘culture wars’ for political gain and control, especially within the majority party,” he wrote, referring of course to the Idaho GOP, which is more than a “majority party,” controlling almost 83% of the seats in the Idaho Legislature.

In his op-ed, Berch specifically focused on House Bill 314, which would have given Attorney General Raul Labrador the authority to legally punish public and private school libraries for containing materials deemed — by a profoundly subjective set of criteria — to be “harmful to minors.”

One upshot of the near-total dominance of the Idaho Republican Party over the Legislature is that it’s so big the only place left to find meaningful opposition is within its own ranks. Supporters of the moral panic over libraries found such opposition from no less than Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little, who vetoed HB 314, stating in his veto message that the legislation “makes sweeping, blanket assumptions on materials that could be determined ‘harmful to minors.’”

What’s more, by enabling parents to seek a $2,500 fine for instances when children accessed “harmful” material, the law would create “a library bounty system that will only increase the costs local libraries incur, particularly rural libraries” 

Predictably, the authoritarians and zealots were “outraged,” as Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman described his emotions, according to Boise-based KTVB-TV, scurrying back to the vague language of the moral panic:

“This veto is a concession to the same special interests that seem to have a vested interest in putting obscene, graphic and pornographic material into the hands of children to begin with,” Hoffman stated, of course providing no detail regarding the identity of these “special interests” nor evidence of their “vested interest” in exposing children to harmful material nor even a concept of what constitutes “obscene, graphic or pornographic material.”

As always, the moral panic cannot exist in the company of specifics — its menace comes from its vagueness, which cloaks its true purpose. As Berch wrote: “The real obscenity isn’t porn, it’s propaganda.”

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.