Librarians Lead the Charge!

Despite all of the distracting turmoil brought on by the new President’s impulsive tweeting, inept advisers, and alternative facts, it is imperative that the U.S. electorate remain aware of what the legislature is doing. Congress is an equal branch of government, and Republican leaders, even those who don’t like Trump, see his administration as an opportunity to achieve their own long-standing goals. Some of these goals would undermine the very heart of our democracy.

Borrego Springs Library open on New Year’s Eve.

Most Americans could probably not imagine our country without public libraries. In addition to their practical benefits of aiding education and the development of job skills, libraries are enjoyed by many as places of serenity and quiet contemplation.

But public libraries are important for more than just the pleasure they give. They are the cornerstone of our democracy, essential for an educated citizenry, and a front line of defense for our civil rights.

In 2014, when he was the House Budget Committee Chairman, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-W) prepared a federal budget that eliminated funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Ryan’s proposal was the 3rd time that a GOP budget from the House had proposed the elimination of the IMLS.

The IMLS was established in 1996 as an independent agency providing the main source of federal funding for more than 123,000 libraries and 50,000 museums nationwide. The agency provides matching grants which allow libraries to modernize and provide access to technology for patrons who do not have computers or internet access in their homes. The IMLS is still in the budget for 2017, but this could change if Ryan has his way.

Librarians are not the inhibited, introverted caricatures seen in comics. In addition to fighting hard to maintain public services, they are frontline activists defending our civil rights and due process. These men and women seriously believe in free speech and the free exchange of ideas. They are resistance fighters who oppose censorship and unconstitutional surveillance.

A sign put up by many librarians after the Patriot Act was passed to let people know the FBI could be monitoring the computers. Credit: West

When Section 215 of the Patriot act made it illegal for librarians to tell patrons if their computers were being secretly monitored by the FBI, the librarians put up signs notifying patrons that they weren’t allowed to say. Everyone got the message, and in 2015 this unconstitutional section was allowed to expire.

Credit: Rebecca McCorkindale, Nebraska

Today, librarians are standing against what they see as a threat to civil liberties made by Trump’s executive orders on immigration. A sign created in Nebraska, saying “Libraries are for everyone,” inspired librarians across the country and around the world to copy the posters in different languages and display them along with books on Islam, empathy, and being a good neighbor.

Elizabeth Flock, in a report posted on PBS NewHour, wrote that Trump’s immigration orders touched a nerve with librarians because their institutions serve such a diverse population. According to the IMLS, 55 percent of new Americans use a library at least once a week.

Many of us have fond memories of visiting the library as a small child, and every day you see many mothers working to give their children that same experience. With an image of libraries as warm, fuzzy places, it’s easy to take them for granted.

But we must remain vigilant and keep an eye on Congress as well as Trump. If we want to keep our democracy, we have to fight for it. We must stand with our librarians!

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