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Why Our Public Library is No Place for Politics

Updated: Jun 18


Two hot topics in Huntington Beach currently relate to our beloved city-run, public library. In just the past twelve months we have been confronted with questions about who should control the content of the library’s collection and whether management of the public library should be turned over to a private, for-profit company.

 

The answer in both cases is no control by politics or politicians doing their politicking.  The reason for this, as in many other aspects of American life, is all about freedom. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly explained that public libraries are a pillar of the intellectual freedom guaranteed to us by the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution. Therefore, politicians cannot restrict or control libraries’ content "simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to `prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”[1]

 

It does not matter whether politicians attempt to impose their opinions about content directly or through proxies such as “review boards” or private companies they hire in misguided attempts to conceal their actual motives; the result is the same.  The United States Constitution dictates that such control cannot take place at the systemic, public library level; in our American system it must take place at the individual (which includes families) level.[2] 

 

There are institutions in this city that are cherished and very important to us. These include not only the library, but landmarks like the city pier, Central Park, and our wetlands, as well as programs such as Junior Lifeguards, summer programming for kids, and Children’s Story Hour at the library. The City Council members are mere stewards – not owners – of these institutions.  We must take care in selecting whom we entrust with the city’s “jewels.”

 

In this upcoming election, hopefully we’ll be better informed so we can avoid selecting people who lack understanding of what these institutions are, or their significance to the city’s history and residents. We should not select people who would put their own ego, emotions, ambition, or personal animus ahead of our collective interest in safeguarding the things that truly make Huntington Beach a great place to live. 

 

Your voice counts. Please use it.  Sign petitions to protect our library and vote this November!


[1] You can find an informative discussion of these points in the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico and a 2000 case from a Texas federal court, Sund v. City of Wichita Falls.

[2] The City Council majority has argued that its efforts to impose its viewpoint-based control over the library’s content consists solely of moving materials around rather tham removing them. As will be discussed in a separate blog post, this is factually and philosophically disingenuous. In other words, it’s wrong.[1] You can find an informative discussion of these points in the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico and a 2000 case from a Texas federal court, Sund v. City of Wichita Falls.

[1] The City Council majority has argued that its efforts to impose its viewpoint-based control over the library’s content consists solely of moving materials around rather tham removing them. As will be discussed in a separate blog post, this is factually and philosophically disingenuous. In other words, it’s wrong.

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