Libraries are no place to practice censorship, even here in Victoria County | Opinion
It’s a very strong word that some might call chilling or scary. The word can conjure up images of Cold War Moscow and its vast propaganda machine. Or books burned in WWII Germany. Or presidential orders, as under the Obama administration, to search the cellphones of staff members and journalists who might have been in contact.
Or like present-day Victoria County.
Victoria City Council and its trustees are being asked to censor what people can access in their Victoria Public Library.
And the authoritarians making the request are… our own Victoria County commissioners, who on Monday almost asked the city to take action to remove the reading material because a relatively small group of parents – less than two dozen – want 44 banned books from the city library.
The audacity of the commissioners to assume that they could dictate to another elected council how to conduct its affairs is beyond absurd. It’s a testament to the city and county’s ability to continue to work together to improve this community. For a fiscally conservative group, it also raises questions about when commissioners want to protect public finances and when they want to be spendthrifts.
The subjects of the books in question mostly deal with themes that the commissioners have previously expressed disdain about, namely LGBTQ issues and how children and young adults who find themselves in this community deal with their feelings and emotions.
The topics may be difficult for the commissioners to discuss, but they are very real issues that some families – even in Victoria County – have to face and embrace every day. Whether we like it or not, some children are homosexual and others find themselves trapped in a body that is not their sex. Books help these children and young adults – and their families – to cope and learn about themselves and to learn that they are not alone.
Of the 44 books targeted in this 21st century witch hunt, 21 had already been reassessed by the library’s advisory board last year. At that time, we opposed the censorship of library books. It’s still wrong and we still oppose censorship of library books.
At the time, last December, we wrote: “Whether it is something you personally disagree with or not, access to knowledge should be as constant as possible. We commend the advisory board for recognizing this.
Last September, a group of 12 residents asked the library’s advisory board to review the books in question. On December 15, the council voted to keep the books on the shelves.
This is the same group of parents who attended a town council meeting on July 19, complaining that some books in the Victoria Public Library were pornographic and harmful to children. About twenty inhabitants took part in the municipal council on Tuesday, to again decry these “pornographic” books.
The commissioners, who as said at a Victoria Partnership meeting on Tuesday are generally Conservative and Christian, have decided to “take a stand”. That commissioner, Gary Burns, said he was proud the parents took a stand. He said some of the remarks read to the commissioners were downright offensive.
“You wouldn’t print that language in the newspaper,” Burns noted. He is right. The language is offensive to some, or many. Some of them would not be appropriate in a family journal.
But in a library book designed to help people cope and find out who they are? Isn’t that what books are for – and libraries? It’s not up to the commissioners to decide. And it is certainly not up to them to dictate to the municipal council what it decides.
The words vindictive, vile, and dictatorial come to mind: the commissioners actually threatened the city with evicting the library from the county-owned building it occupies.
It could cost city taxpayers money to move the library to a city-owned building. Using the city-owned library could cost unincorporated county residents money if the city adds user fees. And if the city retaliates by cutting other joint programs, such as the fire department and the dispatch center, it could cost county ratepayers even more.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to a tit-for-tat point.
So we’ll see if the city council and its trustees have a collective backbone to stand up to these bullying, short-sighted commissioners trying to impose their religious and (im)moral dictates on another body of government.
As Commissioner Burns remarked at the Victoria partnership meeting on Tuesday, “we’re not going to evict the library.” County Judge Ben Zeller echoed that sentiment to Mayor Jeff Bauknight. Well, we’ll have to wait and see if cooler heads prevail. But if not, the city would have to harden its spine and back down.
Banning books, after all, is at the top of a slippery slope that we should never tumble.