It’s a very strong word which some might call chilling or frightening. The word can evoke images of Cold War Moscow and its vast propaganda machine. Or book burnings in World War II Germany. Or presidential fiats, like under the Obama administration, to search cellphones of staffers and journalists who may have been in touch.
Or like present-day Victoria County.
The Victoria City Council and its administrators are being asked — no, told — to censor what people can check out of their Victoria Public Library.
And the authoritarians issuing the demand are … our very own Victoria County commissioners, who on Monday pretty near demanded the city take action to remove reading material because a relatively small group of parents — fewer than two dozen — want 44 books banned from the city’s library.
The audacity of commissioners to presume they could dictate to another elected board how to conduct its business is beyond absurd. It speaks to the ability of the city and county to continue working together to better this community. For a fiscally conservative bunch, it also raises questions about when commissioners wish to protect the public’s finances and when they wish to be spendthrifts.
The subjects of the books in question mostly deal with themes over which commissioners have previously voiced disdain, namely LGBTQ issues and how children and young adults who are in that community deal with their feelings and emotions.
The subjects may be difficult for commissioners to discuss, but they are very real for some families — even in Victoria County. These families have to confront and embrace LGBTQ issues every day. Like it or not, some children are gay and others see themselves as trapped in a body that is not their gender. The books help these children and young adults — and their families — cope and learn about themselves and learn they are not alone.
Of the 44 books targeted in this 21st century witch hunt, 21 had already been reevaluated by the library’s advisory board last year. At that time, we opposed censoring the library books. It’s still wrong and we still oppose censoring library books.
At the time last December, we wrote: “Whether it is something you personally disagree with or not, access to knowledge should be as unabated as possible. We commend the advisory board for recognizing that.”
Last September, a group of 12 residents asked the library advisory board to review the books in question. On Dec. 15, the board voted to keep the books on the shelves.
It’s the same group of parents who attended a July 19 City Council meeting, complaining that some books at the Victoria Public Library were pornographic and harmful to children. About 20 residents took part in Tuesday’s City Council meeting, to again decry these “pornographic” books.
Commissioners, who, as one stated on Tuesday at a gathering of the Victoria Partnership, are generally conservative and Christian, decided to “take a stand.” That commissioner, Gary Burns, said he was proud of the parents for taking their stand, as well. He said some of the language read to commissioners was outright offensive.
“You wouldn’t print that language in the newspaper,” Burns noted. He’s correct. The language is offensive to some, or to many. Some of it would not be appropriate in a family newspaper.
But in a library book designed to help people cope and learn about who they are? Isn’t that what books — and libraries — are for? This is not for commissioners to decide. And it’s certainly not their place to dictate to the City Council what it decides.
The words vindictive, vile and dictatorial come to mind: commissioners actually threatened the city with evicting the library from the county-owned building it occupies.
This could cost city taxpayers money to relocate the library to a city-owned building. It could cost unincorporated county residents money to use the city-owned library if the city added user fees. And if the city retaliates by severing other joint programs, such as the fire department and dispatch center, it could cost county taxpayers even more.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get to the point of tit for tat.
So we’ll see if the City Council and its administrators have a collective spine to stand up to these bullies, who are trying to impose their religious and (im)moral dictates upon another governmental body.
As Commissioner Burns noted at the Victoria Partnership meeting on Tuesday, “We’re not going to evict the library.” County Judge Ben Zeller echoed that sentiment to Mayor Jeff Bauknight. Well, we’ll have to wait and see if cooler heads prevail. But if not, the city should toughen up and push back.
Banning books, after all, is at the top of a slippery slope we should never tumble down.