The First Amendment and public libraries

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments t...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about John’s comment: “The first amendment does not entitle one to a taxpayer-supported avenue of expression.” and I’ve been really bothered by it. I think F**k walmart is right, It does sound a little bit fascist to me – when you take that statement to it’s logical conclusion. I mean, the first amendment is the first amendment, right? Let’s look at it:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

you can see all of the amendments here. (I thnnk everyone who lives in this country should read the constitution every six months or so, at least on a periodical basis. But that’s just me.) So where in that does it say, “except when taxpayers are paying for it” ? It doesn’t. Free speech is free speech. Freedom of religion is freedom of religion (incidentally, my tax dollar are paying for congress to say a prayer every morning before thier session).

Also, if John is correct, then who decides what kind of speech is okay for public libraries and isn’t okay for public libraries? Is it even fair for people to decide these things? Or do we begin to creep into the realm of fascism when those things are decided for us? I realize that the courts have been trying to interpret the first amendment for years, and they have never really been able to put their finger on what exactly is offensive. It’s a vague term. Personally, I do not find John Stwart’s America offensive in the least bit. I think it’s a wonderful expression of free speech in the form of humor during a time when we need it most. Just because one “taxpayer” is offended by a book in my public library, doesn’t mean that, because this person’s tax money is being used to fund the public library, that we should get rid of all books that this person feels are offensive. That is not how the public library works. The public library serves ALL the public, not just the public that are uptight and can’t seem to understand the concept of satire. Frankly, I am offended by those crappy “left behind” books about the rapture. Oh and that horrible mystery novel that O’Reilly wrote (and, boy, is there some offensive material in there). Am I going to go demand that my public library take these books off the shelves? God no! Of course not! I don’t mind my tax dollars going to the public library, even if it means they carry badly written novels that are offensive to me. For me, it is more important that the public library exist as a place where EVERYONE has equal access and there is a variety of material provided for everyone, offensive or not.

This is why the public library exists – to provide equal access to information. Librarians are not in the business of banning books, at least we shouldn’t be. In fact, ALA dedicates whole week to banned books! They encourage people to read a banned book during this week (or anytime, for that matter).

Again, her are a couple of quotes to leave you with that sum up my feelings very eloquently:

“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” -Jo Godwin

“So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.” – Kurt Vonnegut