Some time ago, I worked after school and during summers at my town’s public library. My supervisor was Mrs. Fowkes, a stunning grandmother who, in summer, wore straw hats with flowers.
There I mastered the trick of repairing loose bindings with glue and folded wax paper. Then I was tasked with rolling the carts down the aisles, placing books in their exact Dewey Decimal location. After a while, I was allowed to work the front desk.
It was there that Mrs. Fowkes, standing straight-spined in a cloud of lavender water, explained to me how we handled dirty books.
Ours was a community that associated education with open minds, and so the library felt obliged to carry sexually explicit books deemed of literary value. The solution was to store them hidden on a shelf right behind the front desk and check them out if a patron specifically asked for the title.
During the slow times, I would take a look. It was there that I became familiar with the pornographic novels of Henry Miller. My, my, my.
Many states and towns are making it a crime for libraries to carry books local censors have declared off-limits. Even more than pornography, today’s thought police seem incensed over gay-friendly literature and controversial arguments on race.
None of this explains why a school district in Arkansas actually removed “Harry Potter” from school library open shelves. Something to do with praise for “good witches,” so we hear.
North Dakota may ban public libraries from lending books that contain “explicit sexual material.” A bill before the state Senate goes into agonizing detail about what parts of a female breast may appear in an illustration or even word descriptions. Librarians who offend could face up to 30 days in jail.
Missouri, meanwhile, passed a measure that could put school librarians behind bars for up to a year.
Such laws evoke terrible dreams of Mrs. Fowkes being hauled away in chains and me being placed in juvenile detention. But there’s also something quaint about them.
Mobile phones give Americans easy access to the vilest porn in all its variety – and in easy-to-watch video. There’s also no lack of online commentary on topics many deem too woke to handle. And you can’t stop any of it.
Nowadays the trollers tend to be right-wingers playing power games and getting a charge out of their intimidation tactics. But crusades to police media consumption are also being waged by elements on the left. Several colleges now let students anonymously report someone they feel – or say they feel – shows discrimination or bias.
A group of Stanford University professors wants to end its system whereby students can report a “Protected Identity Harm Incident.” What stirred opposition was an anonymous denunciation of a student found reading Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
First off, reading the Nazi manifesto in no way indicates approval of its message. People read it to better understand the lunacy behind Nazi propaganda. Any serious student of the Holocaust would read it to better understand the horrific events it helped unleash.
Back at Henry Miller, later feminists denounced his books as “male chauvinist,” which they were, and degraded women, which they did. But go ahead and read them for their literary value or for other obvious reasons. And if your public library fears carrying Miller’s works, Amazon will be happy to fill in.
Meanwhile, the defenders of youthful innocence surely know that teens are finding all kinds of “objectionable” material where they themselves go for it – in the online universe. More than worrying about what people read, they should worry that people aren’t reading much at all.
Threats against librarians begin the end of civilization.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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