Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another reason to love public libraries

So you live in Waco, TX, and you want to watch the Dixie Chicks' DVD, Shut Up and Sing? Apparently you have two options: buy it or borrow it from the public library. Because it's "controversial," the local video stores won't rent it.

Tuesday's Waco Tribune-Herald includes a great piece by John Young on his attempts to rent a copy of the DVD. He describes trying all the local video stores before finally calling the public library. He ends with:

I told reference librarian Sean Sutcliffe about my problems renting the video. We speculated that this might be a problem elsewhere in America's heartland. Then he did a computer search for the title in other libraries in the country. Publicly supported beacons of free inquiry popped up on his screen by the hundreds.

What a country.

What a country indeed. Regardless of how you feel about the Dixie Chicks or their criticism of President Bush, this example shows how much we need public, non-profit institutions devoted to free inquiry. I can understand why a video store in Waco, TX, would shy away from renting a Dixie Chicks DVD. The last thing the store owner wants is a picket line in front of his store or a boycott of his business. A business exists to earn a profit, not to uphold values. But that means that we can't rely on for-profit entities to make controversial information available, no matter which side of the political spectrum that information belongs to. Public libraries, however, exist to do just that. Whether your tastes run more toward Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, you'll find something in the public library to suit you--and something to tick you off. Or as the classic librarian book bags say, "There's something in my library to offend everyone." May it always be so.

And for those who get irritated that public funds are spent on materials that offend them, I hope you'll remember that something you hold dear probably deeply offends some other taxpayer. I'll let you keep your propaganda if you'll let me keep mine.

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