For the past few months, I’ve watched a small but mighty battle brew around our public library.
A WPR reporter called me for a quote – I hesitated to go on record and declined to comment. Not because I don’t have an opinion. I am after all a patron, Iron River taxpayer, donor, former board member, and voracious reader who credits public libraries with the person I am today. Yet, I question the relevance of my opinion that’s drawing out a tired narrative in our community. Hate.
I’ve watched neighbors call each other pedophiles, imply that childless adults are incapable of keeping children safe, and cite extremist hate groups, such as Gays Against Groomers, as a credible source for why certain books shouldn’t be in our libraries.
I’ve watched in disbelief as individuals have overstepped their political authority and then imply they represent the values of an entire community. I’ve watched private Facebook groups pop-up. Meetings publicized as public forums be shutdown. Individuals silenced. Reporters removed. Library staffed banned from attending meetings. Information withheld. Vague threats of election recalls. Closing our library doors. Defunding the library. Firing our library director. The removal of anywhere from 1 – 100 materials or more. The marginalization of humans. I shake my head in disbelief, hoping that due process and Democracy will win. Time will tell. I have nothing to add to that debate.
Small-town living is complex. The anonymous concerned citizens are neighbors. Individuals commenting are acquaintances, coaches, parents, and others I interact with daily. This issue has become increasingly complex because people are mixing ideals, and beliefs systems, and thrusting it on a building that was built out of love. That was built by people who wanted Iron River to be better.
Yesterday, I attended the annual library book sale. I was reminded that while individuals who proudly protest that their tax dollars shouldn’t go towards a building they never visit, there are dozens of volunteers who continue to show up and work hard to ensure our community has access to information. Information for everyone.
I enjoyed the world’s best homemade chocolate chip cookie made with real butter and got an incredible deal on a few books to place on my over crammed bookshelf. Later, I took my son to the library to pick-out some books and puzzles to enjoy on a rainy weekend. I listened to the Library Director chat with everyone who passed through the doors while children and parents perused the shelves and a senior commented on our broad selection of large print books. And I was reminded, there simply isn’t room for fear here.
A moment of clarity. Our library is a space built out of love. I think back to those original donors and volunteers who built The Evelyn Goldberg Briggs Library. I think of Jim Swenson and Dave Goldberg and countless others who opened their hearts (and pocketbooks) and donated what they could. Time. Energy. Money. Materials. Love. I think of the donor names that line the spines of books outside of the library – who believe that our community is better when armed with information and proudly supported an expansion. Even if it is information we don’t like. Even if we don’t agree with it. Even if it challenges us to think differently. Even if we don’t understand. After all, isn’t that the point of the library? To bring us together. To open our world up to new possibilities. To broaden our horizons. I think back to the daycare kids singing at the expansion celebration – a celebration of the library’s bright future surrounded by people who believed Iron River and surrounding communities had earned this labor of love.
These donations didn’t come with strings attached. As a community, we should protect this asset, not diminish it with hate. After all, that’s the real heart of this argument. It is about individuals not agreeing with an entire population. Believing “they” don’t matter. They don’t have a “place” in our library. That they don’t “represent” our community. A fear and disdain of those who are different. It is the same tired argument that was used when a few ran public housing out of our town. Different isn’t welcome here. “Those” people aren’t welcome here. “Those” people do drugs. “Those” people are poor and criminals. At what point do we realize there is no us versus them. There is only we.
In my heart, as corny as it sounds, love wins. I support my local library. I welcome ideas that differ from mine, even if I politely disagree with them. I choose to believe I live in a place where the volunteers, staff, donors, and patrons who continue to support this incredible asset are the majority, not the minority. That a few with a megaphone do not represent me or our community – no matter how hard they try. They can continue to yell. But, they don’t speak for me. I speak for myself – and this is my truth.