Libraries have always been at the foundation of our democracy, existing to arm the public with the information people need to make informed decisions and reach logical conclusions. Libraries are trusted sources of this information precisely because they do not judge, reject or accept the information based on politics or opinion. They provide it, and as technology has changed over the decades, they adapt to provide it the way patrons want it.
Despite all of this, the commissioners of Citrus County chose to reject the library system’s request. I am well aware of the financial difficulties public libraries face. (We do give away our services and materials for free.) And if the commissioners stated that they simply couldn’t afford this service — as print copies of the Times are available at the system’s libraries — I could reluctantly understand it. But that was not why the request was rejected. The commissioners decided to limit the public’s access to information because they personally feel the paper is “fake news.” As Commissioner Scott Carnahan brazenly stated, “I don’t want the New York Times in this county. I don’t agree with it, I don’t like 'em.”
This is a misguided decision. Public libraries are not in place to further the political agenda of any party or position. Whether those holding the purse strings favor any particular journal or not should be irrelevant. At the New York Public Library, we offer hundreds of periodicals from all sides of the political aisle. I will tell you that I do not agree with the political slant of some of the papers we make available. And that is exactly how it should be.
Libraries give members of the public the tools they need to be fully informed participants in civic society. Considering all that is at stake in 2020 — the next census and a presidential election — it is crucial that municipalities strengthen public libraries to combat the willful ignorance, hateful rhetoric and divisive tactics that threaten to destroy our great nation.
The decision in Citrus County to handcuff the local library and limit its ability to provide the public with full access (in an increasingly digital world) to a legitimate source of information is a disgrace and the polar opposite of what is needed. Knowledge is power; to limit knowledge is to limit the power of our citizens to make informed decisions. That is the antithesis of what this country is all about.
Historian Jill Lepore explains it well in her book, “These Truths: A History of the United States.” The idea of truth, she writes, is the mast on the ship of state. When truth is shattered, so goes the nation. The only way to repair it is to trust citizens with the information they need to draw their own conclusions.