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READING SOLUTION

War in Europe, attacks on libraries at home show books are essential for democracy

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War endangers children, literacy and by extension democracy everywhere. The fragility of access to books and information is apparent today in places far and near.
Las Crucen Ron Cooke shares a message from Maria Deskur of Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania Universal Reading Foundation in Poland, appealing to the global publishing community for financial support to purchase books from Ukrainian publishers for distribution to Poland’s 90,000 Ukrainian refugee children.
Deskur explains: “Psychological stability for children in a war-torn country is fundamental … how crucial it is for kids to have a moment of peaceful book sharing with their moms … how fundamental [this is] for the future of Ukraine’s democracy ... Not many people understand how fundamental for the future of Ukraine’s democracy is the survival of the Ukrainian book industry. ... During World War II, the destruction of Polish books and libraries was widespread and the country’s publishing industry was decimated. After the war, publishing had to begin again from scratch. That rebuilding had effects on the country’s literacy rates that are still felt today.”

To read her appeal in its entirety go to https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/88700-polish-literacy-foundation-leads-relief-efforts-for-ukrainian-kids.html

You can reach Deskur at maria.deskur@fpc.org.pl

 With eyes on eastern Europe, Americans can see the bloody casualties of war and we may not think too much about access to books in Ukraine and a freeze on information in Russia. But censorship doesn’t need a war to do its worst. Sometimes, a war on words is quieter and moves slowly.

Obliterating a free press and maintaining low rates of literacy are two ways to suppress democracy. The U.S. boasts a robust press, literate citizens (88 percent in 2021) and what seems to be a vibrant library system, so it might not be immediately obvious when Constitutional rights are subverted by our own community leaders.

I have been following the dismantling of one of my favorite libraries where programs are being gutted, hours decreased, longtime professional staff exiting; a library that I have visited and enjoyed many times called ImagineIF, the Flathead County library in Kalispell, Montana. Attacks on individual books are now escalating into systemic destruction by the very people entrusted to care for it.

The award-winning Flathead County ImagineIF library has been widely recognized for its innovations and excellence. This year it has been stripped of its accreditation, key professional staff and a large chunk of state funding thanks to the determination of some recently appointed members of the Library Board of Trustees.

According to news from NBC Montana, the Flathead Beacon newspaper and public records, controversy over three books in a collection of 100,000 is just the first salvo in an attack on a crucial tenet of democracy. Unelected public servants are now rewriting policy and attacking the standards of the American Library Association Bill of Rights Freedom to Read and the Montana State Library Trustee Manual guidelines for collection management and handling of complaints.

The ALA reports a dramatic uptick in book challenges and outright removal of books from libraries across the country. A November 2021 statement reads, “In recent months, a few organizations have advanced the proposition that the voices of the marginalized have no place on library shelves. To this end, they have launched campaigns demanding the censorship of books and resources that mirror the lives of those who are gay, queer, or transgender or that tell the stories of persons who are Black, indigenous, or persons of color. Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections.” 

We can’t wait for a bloody war to capture our attention. Democracy requires constant vigilance even in strong democracies.

Rorie Measure is president emeritus of Children's Reading Alliance, a grassroots initiative to encourage family literacy throughout Doña Ana County. She is a reader, writer, teacher, reading specialist and literacy trainer who can be reached at rmeasure@gmail.com.