OP-ED | Town Government Should Stay Out of Library Programming
One of the constant bright spots in Enfield is the central library on Middle Road, and its small, branch library on Pearl Street in the Thompsonville section. My wife and I are heavy library users, and one of the reasons we decided to move to the part of Enfield where we currently live is that it is a quick walk to the central branch. I’ve always been proud that this town, which tends to skimp on so much else, supported its libraries as well as it does. I’m a college librarian myself and I’m able to recognize the hard work and dedication Enfield’s librarians and paraprofessionals put into making this system as good as it is.
The librarians there have never shied away from putting on the shelves materials that some would find controversial or offensive. I’ve been personally grateful for this — when I was struggling with issues of personal identity over the past two years, the Enfield public library system was one of the first places I turned to try and learn more about myself.
That’s why I was saddened and outraged to read this story in the Journal Inquirer about the town council and mayor pressuring the library to cancel a screening of the documentary “Sicko,” by Michael Moore, threatening to cut funding unless the screening was canceled.
The problems apparently started when a resident complained about the film screening at a recent town council meeting. This was a golden opportunity for the town’s leaders to say, “I’m sorry you don’t like the material being shown, but the library has the right to show it, and we support our librarians.” Instead, they chose to lean on the library director, and get the film showing canceled.
Their excuses ring hollow. Councilman Patrick Crowley (D) said that the material wasn’t age-appropriate for kids (the film was scheduled to be shown during school hours on a Friday). Mayor Scott Kaupin (R) encouraged the library to show “nice stuff” instead, and if they had to be controversial, they should be sure to be scrupulously fair. The mayor suggested “Finding Nemo” as something “nice” to show. Yes, really.
This is absurd. Town library director Henry Dutcher has stated that the film series was not intended for children, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the council. In fact, the library’s shelves are filled with materials that are not appropriate for children, including two copies of “Sicko.” The problem seems to be that the library was showing the movie. So, sure, go ahead and pick up a book on a controversial topic, but you had better not read it where people can see.
And I’m not clear what we’re protecting children from in any case — the idea that America has a lousy health care system? They probably already know that; they pay attention.
Councilwoman Cynthia Mangini (D) is correct to call “censorship” the council’s threat to withhold funding unless the movie was dropped. The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights says, among other things, that “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” That is exactly what is happening in Enfield. The town council is not interested in protecting children or providing balance. They simply don’t like Moore’s politics.
I am proud to have my tax dollars go toward showcasing all kinds of material, even and especially those with which I don’t personally agree. By restricting the library’s programming choices, the town council is taking away the right of citizens to make up their own minds on controversial subjects, and that is counter to the spirit of American democracy. I urge Mayor Kaupin and the council majority Republicans, whom I have voted for many times in the past, to reconsider their stance on freedom of expression for the library.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner/author of CTLocalPolitics.com. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.