Do you want the freedom to read what you choose? Defend the Meridian Library District

·3 min read
Darin Oswald/Darin Oswald

It is sickening, what’s happened to words like “freedom” and “liberty” in Idaho.

Understood truly, these words denote one of the most essential human needs. They mean, basically, that you get to determine what you do, what you read, what you believe. You don’t have to take someone else’s orders.

But in Idaho, the far right has perverted these words to mean their opposite.

And lately, it seems “liberty” means banning books. “Freedom” means getting rid of libraries, the storehouses of public knowledge that allow for robust participation in the democratic process.

It’s the place where you can find books by George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, which may be particularly instructive at a time like this.

As Becca Savransky and Rachel Spacek reported this week, a far-right group who call themselves the “Idaho Liberty Dogs” — the “dogs” part may fit, but the “liberty” part does not — are campaigning to use government coercion to remove books from libraries in Meridian. At least one “Liberty Dog” has called for the elimination of the library district, which would deprive funding from all libraries in Meridian. This from a group whose previous stands for liberty include such noble acts as intimidating homeless people.

In arguments on social media about the issue, leaders of the ironically named Idaho Freedom Foundation have likewise called for the elimination of public libraries writ large.

So if you live in Meridian, and you value libraries, you should take some time out of your day to attend the Meridian Library District Board of Trustees meeting on Aug. 17 to express support for allowing patrons to choose what books they will read — not to have what’s available dictated by those who fight against freedom while cynically using its name. The board should not only hear from the book burners.

If you can’t attend, you can submit comments online.

It’s important to fight these efforts at censorship at every turn because they are growing louder each day. The Idaho Legislature spent a significant amount of the last legislative session contemplating whether it should impose criminal liability on school librarians if a child winds up reading a book it does not approve of. Aptly numbered House Bill 666 passed the House overwhelmingly, only to be blocked by the Idaho Senate. But after far-right victories in the primary, the Senate can no longer be counted on to stand up for values like freedom and liberty.

So the censors are coming. They have already made clear their intentions: If a kid reads a book they don’t like, put the librarian in jail. If a library has a book they don’t like, close the library. And if they succeed, even in a small part of what they’ve attempted, they will create an atmosphere of fear sufficient for self-censorship to take care of the rest.

So if you want the right to choose what books you read, and to choose what books your children can read, you’re going to have to fight for it. You’re going to need to show up in the general election, to be sure, but that’s just a small part of it.

You need to begin engaging in regular activities to protect institutions like libraries from the forces of censorship and to find organizations doing that same kind of work in your area. There are lots of them.

Because many Idahoans realize that true freedom and liberty really are worth fighting for, despite what some groups have done to sully their names.

Bryan Clark is an opinion writer for the Idaho Statesman based in eastern Idaho.