For me, 2021 was marked by reading. A lot of reading. I read classics, I read detective, I read NYT Best Sellers, I read non-fiction. I read print and on my iPhone. I fell in love with audio books. And most of what I read was borrowed from the library.
At the beginning of the year, I set an arbitrary Goodreads goal of 65 books and surpassed that number months ago. Yet I kept going and am now closing in on 100. A personal best. But for me, the record signifies more than bragging rights on Goodreads.
Let me explain.
I read widely because I can. That is not the case everywhere in the world. Books can be banned, press freedoms restricted, internet limited, if available at all. Disinformation is rampant and difficult, if not impossible, to check. Censorship is not a new thing nor are attempts to ban and burn books. Serious threats are raging just a few miles down the road from where we live in Arlington.
When America’s Founding Fathers were drafting the rules for a new government, they did not get everything right. What they did get right was understanding the value of free access to information. All information — not just information officially sanctioned or promulgated by self-appointed arbiters. And they backed up their belief with actions: Benjamin Franklin established the first lending library in Philadelphia and Thomas Jefferson’s gift of his personal library created the Library of Congress.
The shelves of Arlington Public Library are filled with books someone, sometime, is bound to find upsetting, ugly, false. And that’s by design. We purposefully build our collection to be both broad and deep. Whether one is looking to be entertained, informed, comforted — it’s all here and all free.
One of the most rewarding and most challenging responsibilities of a public librarian is our ethical obligation to provide access to materials that cover a wide range of viewpoints and opinions, even those with which we do not personally agree. We do not know the specific reasons why members of our community might choose to read a book, nor do we question their right to do so. Some might want to read a book because they agree with its perspective. Others might want to read it because they disagree. They might read it to gain a better understanding of one viewpoint in a national dialogue. In every case, we defend their right to read it.
We are thankful Arlington Public Library patrons have made us part of their reading journeys. And we appreciate their working with us to keep our collection diverse, welcoming of many viewpoints, and, yes, occasionally discomfiting. Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison, whose “Beloved” was the subject of a recent local school controversy, had some things to say about banned books and censorship. This quote has stuck with me.
“The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists' questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, cancelled films — that thought is a nightmare. As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink. Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination.”
Stay safe, stay hopeful. And keep reading.
Diane Kresh, Director, Arlington Public Library