A few days ago, every home in Orange City received a flier inviting them to the public library’s board meeting on Tuesday. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss a circulating petition that proposed the labeling and separate shelving of materials that deal with LGBTQ+ issues as well as the halt of new acquisition of such materials at the public library.
At the board meeting, concerned Orange City residents proclaimed their opposition toward these controversial materials being so easily accessible to the public while others defended the library’s obligation to provide materials that members of the community had requested.
As I listened to the different opinions that were presented, I was struck by one woman’s comment regarding the role of the library in the community: the library provides ideas, and ideas are dangerous.
She’s right. The ideas we can acquire from books such as these may cause a lot of discomfort. We may learn that what we have been brought up to believe may not be entirely true. We may be presented with a perspective that contradicts our understanding of the world and its inhabitants. We may be prompted to step outside our comfort zone. We might even grow. That’s painful stuff.
But just because an idea might not align with your values does not mean that it isn’t worth exploring. When we only pursue information that confirms what we already believe, we are missing out on a wealth of valuable insight. Pushing aside a perspective that might challenge our beliefs denies us the opportunity to better understand our neighbors.
The library provides us with stories that allow us to explore the struggles, successes, passions and fears of others. As we delve deeper, we learn to think critically about how the function of our society might work for or against certain groups of people. We become sensitive to the experiences of others, and as a result, we can begin to tear down the walls that divide us and find common ground.
The only thing we have to lose by acquiring more knowledge is our own ignorance. The more we encounter compelling literature, the more willing we have to be to reexamine our worldview and adjust accordingly. That is not to say that we must replace our beliefs, but rather expand our framework of understanding to be more holistic.
The public library is dangerous because the pursuit of knowledge is dangerous. We may begin to doubt and ask questions and disrupt our comfortable state of ignorance. But is it more dangerous to remain in this state of ignorance while there are people hurting because of it?
By attempting to sweep these controversial topics under the rug, not only are we depriving ourselves of an opportunity to acquire knowledge, but we are also conveying to members of the LGBTQ+ community that they are not worth getting to know. When we listen humbly and learn from and about one another, we may discover our capacity to live as unified, diverse people.