At one time, if you were to reach for a shortcut to all things American, you might reach for Mom, Apple Pie, the Flag, all caps because they represented some almost sacrosanct ideals. In some cases, you might even throw in Libraries, because nothing said freedom like the ability to walk into a public library and read about all things American.
Unfortunately, those days are gone. This isn’t your grandmother’s library anymore.
That this is now a certitude was proven in a town not five minutes from where I live, the buckle of the Bible belt. A book controversy has riven its libraries, its people, alerted the governor who issued a mandate, and drawn national attention. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe (the author uses the pronouns e/em/eir—no, seriously), turned up in a Fort Mill, South Carolina library and, frankly, all hell broke loose, as well it should. The memoir is being touted by some librarians and most decidedly by its author as reaching out to the sexually disenfranchised, those who are nonbinary and asexual, but may also be gay. But do not be distracted. Problems exist in a profoundly objectionable way.
The graphic book chronicles Kobabe’s trek rom her biological gender to her newfound one. In one scene the author reveals her first period. Then there are the sexual fantasies. But it is the book’s oral sex scenes, graphic and explicit, that are hardly the fare for school-aged children of any age. (If you doubt this, Google the book’s images and see for yourself but be forewarned: they are not suitable for work or for the homeplace, or for any place for that matter. After viewing them, see if you can find any mainstream news stories that gave you a reliable idea of what was in this book. Most left you to think whoever objected to it was a hidebound homophobe.
Let’s be frank—or should say Francine?–here. No one would countenance a book that touted heterosexual fellatio or cunnilingus for any school library, the German photobook “Show Me” of a few decades back, notwithstanding.
What led to Gov. Henry McMaster’s wise investigation to this matter was not only its offensive content, but also its presence in libraries at all. School districts and administrators have rushed to scratch their heads about why this happened. It’s not a mystery, really.
The American Library Association (ALA) is as much to blame as anyone (School Library Journal, a collection development tool for school libraries, gave the book its highest recommendation). For the last 15 years, ALA has been the champion of all things leftwing, becoming in many ways during the 2020 elections, a virtual mouthpiece for the radical wing of the Democratic Party. Under its umbrella is the America Association of School Librarians that argues pornographic books should not be removed.
Twenty years ago, I chronicled this shift in ALA and will not do so again here (https://www.academia.edu/43937898/Stacked_to_the_Left_The_American_Library_Assoication). Suffice it to say that ALA has only hardened its leftward shift over the last two decades. The annual association’s conventions are little more than rallies for the radical left.
Given ALA’s leftward slant and its embrace of everything from LGBTQ+ and drag queen story hours to embracing pornography under the guise of not wanting to censor (but quick to censor the right), librarians coming into the profession today having willingly embraced its radical activism. Many librarians come into communities itching to “instruct” its yahoos in the way of the enlightened.
Did anyone in these libraries not know what they were getting? It’s highly unlikely. Some libraries do use blanket orders, but even a quick glance at the list would tell one what one was getting. Rather, my guess is that wherever these books turned up (and they have turned up in school and public libraries all over the country), whoever ordered them knew precisely what they were getting. Either they hoped no one would notice, or simply didn’t care. They were doing it for the children, not their children mind you, but yours.
Is there a quick solution to this madness that won’t have the censorship police running about hysterically? Every library in every state should drop its American Library Association membership. The cost can be exorbitant and the advantages nonexistent. This one act would send a message to ALA that its leftward slant is no longer wanted or needed.
Second, publicly funded libraries should also discontinue subscriptions to American Libraries, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. Some of these titles come with the membership but they can also be ordered separately. These magazines are reliably left-of-center and will only yield a collection made up of same. I won’t get into an inside baseball discussion of collection development, but other tools obtain for use in building an appropriate collection.
Eternal vigilance is third. ALA will not stop promoting its leftwing philosophy, and parents need to know this. Unlike what libraries were like 50 years ago where a very neutral balance between left and right views were encouraged, today some libraries are as likely to be hotbeds of leftwing sentiment as anything else.
Sadly, today’s libraries are not your grandmother’s libraries. They are, however, fast becoming the mouthpiece for all things left-of-center.
Mark Y. Herring is professor emeritus, dean of library services from Winthrop University. Herring spent 42 years as dean or director in academic libraries in Tennessee, Oklahoma and South Carolina. He was most recently appointed by Governor Henry McMaster to the South Carolina State Library Board. He resides with his wife, Carol, in Rock Hill.