People have been telling us for a long time that books are dangerous. The warnings go back as far as Socrates, and although the specifics vary, the constant theme is that unpopular ideas will confuse ordinary minds.

Part of an LBGTQ display at the Rumford Public Library that has caused controversy in the town. Librarians have had to defend their monthly display choices since the interim town manager questioned whether librarians were making a political statement with the display. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The latest round took in this battle took place in the town of Rumford, where some local pastors objected to the public library displaying books with lesbian and gay themes for Pride Month, an annual observance of “the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally,” according to the very subversive Library of Congress.

Included in the staff’s selection was the young adult novel “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan, and “My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness,” a graphic novel by Kabi Nagata.

To their credit, the pastors did not demand that the books be burned. They just wanted them hidden on the a shelf.

“The library should not be promoting a far left political view that sees homosexuality as acceptable and to be promoted over and against a conservative and traditional view that sees homosexuality as wrong and to be avoided,” the pastors wrote. “(We) believe that there are many who hold this traditional view in our area who deserve not to have these other views which are offensive to them thrust in their face in a library that should be neutral in its political views.”

The first piece of  good news is that Rumford has a library that people care this much about.  The librarians are clearly doing something right.

Further good news is that the library’s board of trustees did the right thing after getting the pastors’ letter. The board held a meeting at which all of the critics had a chance to express their concerns.

And the best news of all is that the trustees did not cave under the pressure, and reasserted their support for the staff and its authority to select which books to display.

Free-speech lovers can all celebrate this story’s happy ending, but there are a few points that still need to be made.

• Banning discrimination based on sexual orientation is not a ‘”far left political view” in Maine – it is the law.

• The right to practice a religion is not a right to never be offended. People with other values also have a right to the public square.

• Seeing a picture of two boys kissing is not going to make anyone gay.

It’s easy to pick on the pastors, but these days, attacks like theirs are just as likely to come from progressives who object to books that offer uncritical views of topics like racism or sexual violence. Knowing how to weigh these concerns is complicated by the fact that community standards change over time, especially as groups that were once silenced claim their voices.

As we navigate these difficult questions, the firm response by the Rumford Public Library’s staff and trustees offers a good lesson for everyone.

The real danger posed by books doesn’t come from reading too many – it’s  from reading too few.

 

 

 


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