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‘To me, THAT is freedom’


In the Sept. 6, 2023, edition of The Courier News, reader James J. Wilson reminded us of the vocal minority raging on about library books. “Stop this encroaching nonsense,” he declares, “before we have no libraries left.” I mean, yeah. That probably would satisfy these folks, right?

But but but we aren’t trying to ban books, that’s a “scare tactic.” You can just go out and buy the books that we decided to have removed from your *checks notes* PUBLIC library.

To them, THAT is freedom.

But that seems to defeat the freedoms granted by a library, right?

Libraries are genius! Americans decided that the intellectual freedoms (scary phrase for our friends on the right, I know … ) enshrined in the First Amendment were indeed guaranteed.

As a society, “We the People” said that the public shall always have the latest books made available to them, by them, for them, for free, no matter who they are or what they believe. There is something for everyone.

I remember thinking to myself not long ago how happy I was that the would-be library overseers fueled by media campaigns of right-wing extremist hate groups did not seem to be making it to Clinton. Not in our town, I thought. We know better.

Boy! Was I wrong!

These would-be library overseers came, keep coming, and cannot be satisfied, despite all the efforts our librarians (and library board) have put in to shore up the processes, and are standing on a hard line: Either remove these few books that do not align with our specific worldview or you are “commie trash,” “a groomer,” “a pedophile,” that you “peddle porn” and “shouldn’t be allowed around children.”

Two people I have never met, both of whom live in Oak Ridge, one of whom is Commissioner Anthony Allen, said those things about me on Facebook about a month back, attempting to damage my reputation and threatening my livelihood as an educator.

They did this because I had shared an online petition to raise support for our local librarians. People were emailing them and screaming insults and threats, and I didn’t think it was nice for them to talk that way.

Listen: If it is controversial to stand up against ugliness, I welcome that controversy.

Speaking of petitions, in the Aug. 30 edition of this paper, another Oak Ridge resident and extreme right partisan Myra Mansfield (whose public library is outside of Anderson County Library Board control) presumed to tell us all to agree that her idea of “community standards” is the only correct one.

She wants us to sign the petition to remove books she doesn’t like. These include sex education books NOT meant for young children that contain some graphic drawings and advice on safe, inclusive practices. These are books that validate and even value the LGBTQ+ communities. These are books like the “Assassination Classroom” series, a decade-plus old series of Japanese manga (comic) books built on pure science fiction and fantasy. These are books likely available at most libraries in Tennessee, including Oak Ridge. But they’re against the law, she says, even though our conservative sheriff has dismissed any claims of obscenity in correlation with the cited laws.

This isn’t about “community standards.” We ALL want our children to be happy, healthy and safe.

No. This is about a fear of the Other that has pervaded the minds of many of our fellow citizens, specifically those tuned in to right-wing media. These days, that fear is rooted in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Heartbreakingly cruel words hurled around about our neighbors, co-workers, family members, in many cases.

And then the harmful lie that somehow teachers and librarians are “groomers’’ and books will make kids gay. (Or now violent? I smell a red herring on that one.) It all still forces the question: Do you just want there to NOT BE public libraries?

I’m keeping the faith. “We the People” will have robust libraries, free access to the books that see us and speak to us, no matter our life experience or what we believe. We will understand that a handful of books are not “the problem.” Books are the least of our worries. Books help us understand ourselves and the world. May our children read as much as possible and not see libraries in a negative light.

How many parents out there can even say their minor children check out and read books from a public library unsupervised?

Here’s the cynical English teacher in me with a call to action: If you have a kid under the age of 18 that goes to the public library, picks and checks out a book WITHOUT your knowledge, then reads it on their own time in full, please capture it for study. At the very least, photograph it. It’s a unicorn! Then, pat yourself on the back for raising such a child. I hope I can raise one of those.

In the end, we will all realize that libraries are just places to house books, and the librarians simply manage the displays and circulations. Being mean to them will not work. They will keep standing strong.

Meanwhile, you can walk right past the books you don’t want to read or don’t want your children to read.

To me, THAT is freedom.

Kevin Powers