Freedom to Read

KABF Media Politics Protests Radio

            Marble Falls      When we think of libraries, most of us have a pretty clear picture in our minds.  To some it’s a quiet, contemplative space, where often all we can hear is the shuffle of feet from card catalogues, if those still exist, to rows of bookshelves.  Maybe we remember having to spend a late evening in one to research a term paper.  Perhaps we remember going into the cool air-conditioned library on a hot summer day, as children looking for something to read when we were trapped inside in the middle of the day, like my brother and I did at Norman Mayer Library on Gentilly, when we cleared the shelves one summer of all the Zane Gray westerns and “we were there” books.  Today, we might hear the clacking of computer keys, as students do assignments on Alvar Street in my neighborhood, lacking internet access at home, while the librarian taps on someone’s shoulder who might be unhoused to rouse them.

Looking over the counter as we check out a book or a tape or learn how to access audiobooks, we might not see the stereotypical librarian with hair tied in a bun, glasses perched on a nose.  This one might have a sleeve of tattoos and hair dyed in a rainbow of colors now.  It’s all good, but the one thing most of us don’t see across the checkout counter is a devil trying to corrupt children, which is the picture some conservatives want us to conjure.  In fact, sometimes it turns out we now see freedom fighters, even though they are more likely to have a pencil behind their ears, rather than a gun strapped to their belt.

In Arkansas, librarians and libraries joined together to get a federal judge to work on a Saturday.  An announcement from the state’s ACLU office shared some great news:

A federal district court in the western district of Arkansas granted a motion to temporarily block portions of Act 372 from taking effect…on August 1. The court also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Fayetteville Public Library, Eureka Springs Carnegie Library, Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), various individual librarians and readers, Arkansas Library Association (ArLA), Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries (AAAL), Freedom to Read Foundation, Inc. (FTRF), several bookstores and publishing associations, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Section 3 of Act 372, which would have criminalized librarians and booksellers for providing access to materials deemed “harmful to minors,” will be blocked from taking effect while the case moves forward. The court also blocked Section 5 of the law, which would have required libraries to establish material review processes and sought to grant county quorum courts the power to force libraries to remove materials that may be protected by the First Amendment.

Full disclosure, we’re fans of CALS.  They are a great and longstanding partner of KABF, the 100,000-watt noncommercial radio station, that we help manage with their support and a small army of volunteers.  We’re not surprised to see them in this fight. We’re proud to see them strapping up and standing tall.  We know many of them well, and can’t imagine any of them in orange jumpsuits or striped shirts picking up trash along Arkansas highways.  These are good people still shushing loud talkers and heavy walkers, not perverting minors.  The legislators and the governor on the other hand should be ashamed for trying to pull Arkansas back into the dark ages for witch hunts.  They knew better.  In fact, this act was an attempt to revive a similar act that has already been ruled as unconstitutional.  The big difference is this new twist of making librarians and booksellers subject to arrest and criminal charges

Not that Arkansas is alone in this current book banning craze.  In the past two years, books bans have surged in the US, with Texas in the lead.  In Florida, there’s an uproar over race and homophobia being led by the governor.  A right-wing group called CatholicVote, with an office in Indiana, has promoted a “Hide the Pride” campaign that encourages supporters to check out or move books that depict L.G.B.T.Q. characters and families. It backfired in San Diego, where residents pitched in $15000 to replace and expand the library’s collection.

Maybe this too will pass, but like a bad penny, it continues to pop up again in this country from time to time.  The freedom to read, like the freedom to speak, is fundamental.  What are conservatives afraid that we will learn, other than the fact that hate is not a plan, and that the truth will also set us free?