Libraries as Neutral Spaces

On March 2nd, Dr. Seuss Enterprises released the following statement:

Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.

We are committed to action.  To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles:  And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.  These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.

(source: https://www.seussville.com/statement-from-dr-seuss-enterprises/)

After this announcement was made, conversations began in the library world about what to do with the six Dr. Seuss titles that would no longer be published. The KCLS system made the decision (it wasn’t a larger conversation, unfortunately) to keep the six books (we have about 50 copies of each, now with LONG waiting lists – with how much these books are selling for, I’m curious how many will actually be returned?). Which then begs the question – shouldn’t something done to educate readers about the content, especially if the publisher themselves are no longer publishing the books due to how they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong” ?

Continue reading “Libraries as Neutral Spaces”

Confrontations with history

There is an ongoing struggle in public discourse to tackle how to acknowledging the harm of the past without giving it power to cause harm in the present.

This New York Times article focuses on an excellent example. From the article:

In the debate over the 13 murals that make up “The Life of Washington,” at George Washington High School, one side, which includes art historians and school alumni, sees an immersive history lesson; the other, which includes many African-Americans and Native Americans, sees a hostile environment.

Following the “Continue reading” cut below, I’m going to share a few images of the murals as taken from the article. Content warning for depictions of violence and historical racial oppression.

Continue reading “Confrontations with history”

Houston Public Library Sued Over Drag Queen Story Hour

The Houston Chronicle recently reported that a group of activists (who refer to themselves as “Christ Followers”) rallied outside the federal courthouse the afternoon of October 19th, making the announcement that they are suing the Houston Public Library. For what? For violating their freedom of religion by hosting the city-sponsored Drag Queen Story Hour program.

Per the article:

The library director and Mayor Sylvester Turner are named as defendants, accused of being recklessly entangled in “LGBT doctrine.” The lawsuit says the storytelling sessions advertised as appropriate for patrons of all ages at the Freed-Montrose Neighborhood branch should not be funded with taxpayer dollars since the library would not host a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour.”

First, I want to emphatically make the point that I think it’s important that everyone has a venue through which they can express themselves, especially in regards to the work public institutions like libraries are engaged in doing. These card-carrying library patrons do not approve of this particular program on a very fundamental level and I agree with their right to speak up about that disapproval. I come from a very conservative family, so I can emphasize with the perspective that the moral “other” are forcing the spread of their agenda through government programs.

In worldviews that endorse a specific and absolute  moral narrative, it can be difficult to appreciate that vital to a public library’s purpose is welcoming multiple perspectives and moral narratives. Literally, the most fundamental concept of a public library is diversity – imagine visiting a public library with only one book on the shelf, or with all books by only one author.  Different authors, different books, different ideas, different voices. The theme for this year’s Banned Book Week was “Banning Books Silences Stories.” The same individuals who do not approve of the Draq Queen Story Hour program probably do not approve of the content in MANY of the books that their tax money is also used to purchase for the library shelf. Quite frankly,  I know I personally do not approve of books at the library! But I have appreciation for the idea that public libraries are intended to represent the larger human experience – much, much more than my narrow slice of life. The presence of materials I object to in this tax-funded space do not signify my personal endorsement of those materials – only my stake in the mission of the public library as a whole.

Second, – setting aside ideologies and discussing this situation specifically – I am curious what this group’s understanding of drag culture is. Specifically, if they understand that not all drag queens are gay? Equating Drag Queen Story Hour program to a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour,” I can’t help but wonder if the lawsuit was as confused…

Overall, it will be interesting to see what happens to this case in the courts and how that reflects on Houston’s library programs. I can’t imagine that the case will make it to trial, but I hope that perhaps it inspires the Houston Library to sponsor educational events to help the public better understand drag culture itself (any culture that is unfamiliar can seem intimidating and scary, especially one with a long history of negative stereotypes and bias) to supplement the fun of experiencing drag performance during Drag Queen Story Hour program.