Hey! Those Don’t Belong to You: Why You Shouldn’t Burn Library Books

Censorship, GLBTQ, Religion

By: Rebecca Slocum

cover images of targeted LGBTQ+ booksOn October 19, the director of religious group Rescue the Perishing, Paul Dorr, posted a Facebook video in which he spends 30 minutes denouncing the LGBTQ+ community and the Orange City Public Library (OCPL) for purchasing LGBTQ+ books for their children’s section. He culminates the video by actually burning four books from the library’s collection: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan; Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne and Max Lang; This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman; and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. The book burning was a protest against OCPL hosting an event put on by OC Pride, a local LGBTQ+ rights group, which included a drag queen story time for children. And as of right now, Dorr has zero intentions of paying for or replacing the books.

I’ll be honest. Even when considering the heated political climate these days, I was still shocked to read about this disturbing event. Book burnings, in my mind, occurred in Nazi-like regimes in which the government attempts to control every type of media their country is consuming. Book burnings do not occur in our modern world. After all, in the modern world where publishers print hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of copies of one book- what’s the point? All that a book burner accomplishes is ruining a book and likely garnering increased support and interest in that book.

I think what really strikes me here is that Dorr chose to burn library books. He could have chosen to ask his followers to turn in any LGBTQ+ books in their possession. He could have chosen to buy the books first and then burn them. I’m not saying I agree with either of these actions, but at least the situation would have only involved those who are willing to turn over their books or simply just Dorr himself. Instead, he chose to burn books that do not belong to him, books that, in fact, belong to the community in Orange City, Iowa. He chose to steal from his neighbors, both by taking the physical book from the OCPL collection and by robbing young patrons of the opportunity to view how diversity enriches the world around them.

It also demonstrates cowardice and intolerance. If you disagree with someone’s viewpoint, you should have the courage and respect to share and discuss the reasons behind your beliefs. And more importantly, you should have the courage and respect to listen to ideas other than your own. The first article of the Library Bill of Rights states:

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves [emphasis added]. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

For the interest, information, and enlightenment of ALL people. As in everyone, not just those who fit in with a single view of life. Everyone should have access to seek and receive information that encompasses all ideas and beliefs. That is the crux of intellectual freedom.

Mark Stringer, the executive director of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, underscores the danger in Dorr’s attempt to dismantle intellectual freedom:

“It’s one person, or maybe a group, deciding that they’re the gatekeeper of ideas for the rest of the public.”

In this sense, the gatekeeper is similar to a bouncer at a night club, deciding what information the community should or shouldn’t be allowed to access. Not even librarians serve in the role of gatekeeper as bouncer. We cannot expect people to be well-informed citizens in a democratic society if their access to information is limited to a single viewpoint. Rather, let’s redefine the role of gatekeeper. Instead of someone who controls who or what (information) goes in or out, let’s alter the role of gatekeeper to someone who ensures the gate is always open. In this sense, the responsibility of gatekeeper belongs not just to librarians but to everyone in the community. If we’re to be self-governors, to make informed decisions regarding our society, then we must all support the free flow of information. We must all seek the open discussion and sharing of new ideas. We must all share in the role of safeguarding our intellectual freedom.

If you would like to support the Orange City Public Library in rebuilding their LGBTQ+ collection, the director of OCPL is happy to accept donated books. You can send your donations to: 112 Albany Ave SE, Orange City, IA 51041.

 


Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.

3 comments

  • Unfortunately, I cannot say I am shocked that this ancient and menacing practice is resurfacing in our country today. Thank you for bringing it to readers’ attention.
    Here is the quote from the 19th century poet Heinrich Heine: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people” Whether that is literally true in our country now, it certainly has been in the past.
    Here is a link to the United States Holocaust Museum’s overview of book burning in Nazi Germany, including the broad range of authors subjected to this practice:
    https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/book-burning

  • Some good thoughts there Rebecca, nuanced, and well thought out. I like how you pointed out that he chose to burn books from the library, not burn books he or his followers owned.

    I wish people were able to go outside themselves and respect thoughts, and books or other medias that hold those thoughts.

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