You may have seen the movie “Footloose.” The film, starring Kevin Bacon, came out in 1984, which is a long time ago now, but lives on in reruns and streaming and the seemingly endless opportunity to see things over and over again pretty much whenever you like. I was on an airplane when I watched it the first time.
Generally, it’s a fun movie — lots of dancing, as the title gives away. But one scene that has lingered in my memory is not so fun: the book burning scene. In the scene a preacher, played by John Lithgow, hurries to interrupt a group of citizens who are tossing books into trash bins, piling them up, and setting them on fire. “When did you all decide to sit in judgment?” he asks. “Who elected all of you to be the saviors of everybody’s souls …?”
“Satan is not in these books, he’s in here,” he says, pointing to his heart.
Before you congratulate me for having a photographic memory I’ll point out that I recently had a look on the internet, where you can find just about anything. But one of the things I do remember is that up to that point you didn’t expect the minister to make that much sense.
In any case, efforts by those who think things can be made better by challenging and/or banning books remain persistent. I can’t remember how many times I’ve written about it over the years, but it’s more than a few. And now the situation has been getting worse.
As a USA Today story at the end of June points out, banning books is on the rise, “in an escalating culture war that puts books centering (on) racism, sexuality and gender identity at risk in public schools and libraries.”
There are a number of sorry examples listed: removing books from library shelves in Tennessee schools, a Michigan library that might close because of a fight over LGBTQ books, a Texas school district that pulled books, including the Bible, “from library shelves and classrooms.”
The story also highlights statistics from the American Library Association showing book challenges and bans more than doubled from 2020 to 2021.
You can go to ala.org, the site of the American Library Association, to also find some encouragement. Most voters, and parents, are against removing books from public libraries and school libraries. And you can visit bannedbooksweek.org and gear up for later this month. Banned Books Week, as the website says, started in 1982 in response “to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.”
My suggestion is to also consider recent local efforts to build libraries in the context of book-challenging threats. The Meriden Public Library has been operating at the mall by Lewis Avenue while the Miller Street building gets a huge makeover. A new library in Southington was approved by voters in November, but the project is getting upended by increasing costs. Behind these projects is an essential function.
“You don't have to burn books, do you, if the world starts to fill up with nonreaders, nonlearners, nonknowers?” So said Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451.”
It’s an important time to support your local library.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at firstname.lastname@example.org