OPINION

OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Library joy


It should come as no surprise that I was a bookish kid. I learned to read before school ever started, partly because I wanted to be able to do what my brothers could.

Mama kept a wide range of books around, from a collection of dictionaries of foreign languages (there was even an Esperanto section in one, if I remember correctly) to Grimms' Fairy Tales, several Disney and other children's books, poetry, a collection of classic plays from one of her college classes, and Alfred Hitchcock mystery anthologies. A good lot of them were second-hand, either donated, found, or bought cheaply at yard sales, and I really wish I still had some of them.

Then when I went to school, I discovered the library. I checked out probably every volume of Shel Silverstein and Ogden Nash poetry, most biographies (including that infamous Parson Weems work on George Washington that fed the cherry-tree fable), Greek mythology, and anything else I had my heart set on. Mama always checked what I brought home, but never felt the need to curb my curiosity.

When school was out, we'd often head to the Greenwood library, and would sometimes spend far longer there than intended. When I went to high school, I worked in the school library during free periods, I think from seventh grade till I graduated.

The library was my happy place. I was surrounded by literature and by people who loved reading as much as I did. Maybe there were a few adult skirmishes over certain books, but I don't remember any while I was there.

Now, though, things are different because that thing I despise--politics--has wormed its way into my happy place in the form of culture wars that accomplish little but stirring up anger for political talking points.

Mychal Threets, supervising librarian at the Fairfield Civic Center Library in Solano County, Calif., has become a bit of a hero to me, partially because he spreads library love liberally (i.e., with great abandon) on social media, and because he reminds me a bit of Mr. Rogers and LeVar Burton (of "Reading Rainbow") in one package ... plus he has a gorgeous cat and deals with some of the same mental-health struggles I do. He told Washington Post writer Sydney Page, "Libraries are so much more than books. It's a place that's there for you. The doors are open. The library is for everybody."

That's exactly how I've always felt. Who could seriously have a problem with libraries, especially if they knew the people running them usually went to school for this and know more than a little about what's appropriate for certain grade and/or maturity levels?

Oh, but I hear some saying, you're clueless about what's in libraries nowadays. Sure, I have no kids, and have no reason to hang around the children and teen sections in a library.

While there are always legitimate concerns about some books being available to children beyond their maturity level, librarians (and I have a lot of them among my friends) are now being demonized simply for working at libraries or for, as Threets found out recently, sharing their love of the library.

Threets often shares library videos online, and late last month someone shared one of them to X/Twitter. The insults and mischaracterizations flooded in, including comments insinuating he was a danger to children.

But then people came to his defense in droves, Page wrote in her story on Threets. "'Incredible, you took a guy who is passionate about his job of being a librarian and trying to encourage adults and kids to read more/get a library card ... and somehow made it negative,' one person commented.

"'Have we decayed so much as a society where general wholesome enthusiasm is seen as an undesirable trait?' another person wrote."

Apparently so.

I find it hard to take seriously most of the recent book challenges, especially when so many of them come from just a few people, or from national organizations with political agendas, usually taking aim at a narrow genre, typically with out-of-context passages and misrepresenting the availability of certain books.

Here's a thought: If you have children, it is your responsibility to be the final arbiter of what your children read, but not what other children read. That means that forcing a library to remove or move a book to a restricted section because you don't want your children to read it is essentially calling for book banning and, as has often been said, the ones banning books tend not to be the good guys.

Threets was one of 10 honorees earlier this month of the I Love My Librarian Award (along with Clare Graham, director of the Malvern-Hot Spring County Library in Malvern; congratulations!!), well-deserved praise for someone who just wants to engender understanding and library joy. Of his detractors, he told Page, "I hope those people have a much better day tomorrow. I hope they experience kindness. I hope they experience joy. I hope they remember that they still belong at the library. I hope better days are ahead of them."

I hope so too. Maybe they should read "Sick" by Silverstein. It's always made me feel better.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.