Public libraries have been moving increasingly digital, but they still stock print books on their shelves. And some of those books, a few of them, concern subjects current and political.
New book counters will, typically, include a few books from each end of the political spectrum — something, say, from Sean Hannity and something from Rachel Maddow, for example, or other counterparts, or research or memoirs from people around the spectrum.
That’s never been a very controversial thing in most places. But lately it has been, at least for one patron, at the public library in Coeur d’Alene.
The librarian there, Bette Ammon, said that some of the books highlighting or supporting a view from the left — or including or focusing on criticisms of President Donald Trump — started disappearing from their appropriate places on the shelves. (A news story about this indicated those included a memoir by Hillary Clinton, two or three books about the Trump White House and a book on impeachment, among other subjects.) The books apparently weren’t stolen or destroyed, just refiled in places or in ways where no one would think to look for them.
Ammon received a note from the mystery refiler (apparently as yet anonymous), who said, “I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds.Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.”
Liberal angst apparently is the highest goal here. But this prankish behavior suggests more actual angst on the other side of the equation. (If there’s an example out there of the two ideological sides flipping their activities, what follows would also apply.)
The conservative angst that would have led to a hiding of liberal messaging seems at first hard to understand.
If you live in Coeur d’Alene, you have no lack of access to conservative points of view. An overwhelming majority of elected officials in that area compete fiercely to be considered more conservative than thou; some liberals do live there but relatively few are very visible. The state and federal elected officials covering the area are all Republican. There are loads of conservative organizations — even a boatload of competing conservative Republican organizations. The local newspaper editorial pages are hardly liberal bastions. Conservative talk radio is available 24/7 (while liberal talk radio essentially does not exist). Fox News is, of course, on cable. And so on.
What does it mean, then, to be so threatened by a handful of books in a library to go to the effort to hide them because they’re so risky? Might they contain ideas that — gasp — just might be more persuasive than some of what library patrons have been hearing elsewhere around the community? Might a counter-argument to the majority viewpoint appear somewhere in there?
Talk about angst.
Or there’s another alternative, which would be more likely to exhibit itself in book theft or destruction:
A lack of concern about whether the messages in the books might be convincing, but rather a simple determination that no such messages — none other than the community’s majority message — should be heard at all; that they be silenced, blacked out. That the community be blanketed in one ideology, only one, with no access (as far as could be managed) to any other.
Ideally, in the online world, a system something like China’s where online information uncomfortable to the ruling regime is blocked from public access.
I know. A prank involving a handful of books in a library isn’t by itself such a big deal.
But the mindset behind it may be.