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New York Times Astonished Librarians Have Somehow Become Controversial
How did librarians find themselves the focus of such anger?
The New York Times brought us yet another deeply puzzling example of not-quite journalism yesterday, this time decrying the terrible situation that a lot of school and public librarians find themselves in, thanks to "caustic fights over which books belong on the shelves," as the story's subhed puts it. It's good to see the attacks on libraries and librarians getting attention, because that really is a terrifying trend in our Republic, but the story's construction is frankly bizarre: While the Times tells us a lot about the difficulties librarians are facing, the story doesn't quite acknowledge that this is all happening thanks to concerted efforts by rightwing groups to demonize public institutions and target books about LGBTQ+ folks and racial minorities, and the outrageous notion that they are in fact part of America.
Look at this shit. Just look at it.
As highly visible and politicized book bans have exploded across the country , librarians — accustomed to being seen as dedicated public servants in their communities — have found themselves on the front lines of an acrimonious culture war, with their careers and their personal reputations at risk.
They have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation.
Gosh, it is terrible that these things have happened to librarians, especially in the passive voice like that!
The story does occasionally name some of the sources of censorship efforts, but for the most part, the librarians' troubles seem caused by an unnamed ideological weather anomaly that came out of nowhere. Here's more:
In many communities, putting books on the shelves has become a polarizing act and has “turned librarians into this political pawn,” said Ami Uselman, the director of library and media services for Round Rock Independent School District, in Texas.
“You can imagine our librarians feel scared,” she said, “like their character was in question.”
Texas, huh? Now, if the Times were a mere political fart-joke blog like Yr Wonkette, maybe it would have connected Ms. Uselman's comments to the multiple attacks on schools and their libraries coming from Texas Republicans, from Gov. Greg Abbott's directive to scour all "pornography" from schools (there isn't any) to state Rep. Matt Krause's bizarre demand that schools tell his committee whether they have any copies of some 850 books on a list he apparently pulled out of his ass, dealing with sex ed, LGBTQ+ issues, race, and abortion.
But the Times doesn't bother saying anything about why "putting books on shelves" has become so darn polarizing — just that it's happening out there somehow. Sure, the story notes that book challenges have "spiked in recent months," and that these challenges reflect a "clash over whether and how to teach children about issues like L.G.B.T.Q. rights and racial inequality." But as to why that's happening, or who's pushing those clashes, the Times stays decorously vague. It's an article about "Book Bans" with barely any mention of the book banners.
To be sure, we get occasional glimpses of the would-be book banners; there's a mention of the Proud Boys who mobbed "drag queen story hour" events in June (but no mention of the armed Proud Boy guy who terrified kids and parents in Nevada). The story even mentions one of the groups that's been pushing the anti-library rage:
In Cabot, Ark., the local police department investigated a woman who said that if she had “any mental issues,” staff at a local school library would be “plowed down” with a gun, according to a police report. The police determined that the incident, which took place at a meeting of Moms For Liberty — a group that has pushed for book bans around the country — was not made in context of a threat and there was no need to file charges.
But saying that "Moms for Liberty" is a "group that has pushed for book bans around the country" is like suggesting that the National Socialist German Workers Party was a group that was involved in a number of violent brawls in Germany in the 1930s. It seriously downplays the role that rightwing media, Republican politicians (especially Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis), and rightwing media have worked hand in hand to bring about.
We guess it would be terribly partisan and unfair to point out that one political party is doing this. The Times uses the word "Republican" just once, and only to identify a particular politician:
In May, a Republican state representative in Virginia Beach, Tim Anderson, filed a Freedom of Information Act Request to learn the identities of librarians at schools that had copies of books some parents complained included sexually explicit material.
“The question is, how are pervasively vulgar books getting into the schools?” he said in an interview. “Is it the librarians that are doing this?”
Gosh, it sure was mean of that one local politician to say such mean things. Not that he has any company.
What we end up with is a story that reads like how a newspaper in the 1950s might have covered anticommunist panic without any particular mention of Joseph McCarthy or the John Birch Society. People lost jobs and there was a lot of paranoia, but it all just sort of happened. The Times makes us feel bad that people are losing their jobs after refusing to ban books, and that some books are disappearing from shelves, possibly checked out and "lost" by members of groups. How very unfortunate! Really is a shame that these things are happening so often these days.
It almost reads as if the Times were explicitly avoiding saying what's going on, like when Steve Bannon's White House marked Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning Jews. Why yes, we are comparing the mostly unnamed Republican book banners to the Nazis, what of it?
Maybe someone could do something to protect libraries and librarians from this series of unfortunate events that appear to be largely unrelated, just remarkably similar.
Good luck, librarians!
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