Libraries and Learning

A Necessary Footnote

August 31, 2017

So, there’s currently a garbage fire happening in the library community. It’s like one of those landfill fires that smolders underground and pops up to the surface now and again and people rush around trying to put it out, bumping into each other, arguing about how to handle it, quoting policies at each other. By the time I finish writing this, it may be put out for a while, but not for long. It’s a big underground fire, and it’s right under our feet.

Here’s the conundrum in a nutshell. If you want your library to be welcoming to all, you can’t invite into it people who want to publicly announce that they want to drive away some of them with torches and threats. You can’t invite people into your library so they can announce “guess what, you’re not welcome here, and we want you gone.” You can’t give these folks that platform in hopes that we’ll all understand their perspectives better so we can reason with them and maybe change their minds. That’s not what they want. They want a library where some people are not welcome. They can reason you into exhaustion, but what they really want is to tear down that “everyone is welcome here” sign and drive out people they have selected for expulsion.

So when you say “everyone is welcome here” you kind of have to add a footnote: “except people who demand that other people leave.”

This is not to say their viewpoints can’t be explored in a library. You can have books that unpack why some people want other people gone. You can even have books by people who want other people gone. You can put them on a shelf next to books about the civil right movement or reparations for the descendants of people who were kidnapped and enslaved and flames won’t spontaneously break out. You can argue with a book, but it won’t gather a crowd to physically threaten you. You can rub ideas together until they ignite, but they can’t get together and march with torches. People don’t dress up like soldiers and carry weapons through the stacks to protect free speech. That would be stupid. Scaring other people into silence is not how you protect free speech. We can protect speech without violence, without making anyone feel unwelcome.

Except for the ones who only want to come inside to tell others to get out. They have chosen to exclude themselves by declaring the category “everyone” something they reject.


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Babel Fish Bouillabaisse II Copyright © 2019 by Barbara Fister is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.