The commissioners of Llano County, Texas, have already spent more than $100,000 on legal costs in the fight over whether the local library will have to keep books that some deem objectionable. The commissioners even voted to close the library recently rather than keep certain books in it, but a federal judge overruled the decision, ordering that the library stay open with the controversial books. 

After the decision, one resident told NBC, “We need to fight it in the court system and get this salacious material removed. … We have God on our side, and we expect he will get the glory when this is said and done.” Another said, “That’s a victory for free speech!”

Much of the controversy over so-called “banned books” has been focused on the books themselves. Heaven knows there is a spate of wholly inappropriate books being published these days and parents are right to say that some don’t belong in a children’s section or a school classroom. One aimed at 4-to-8-year-olds is called “Mamas Love Their Babies” and includes portrayals of women who fly airplanes, mop floors and dance at strip clubs. It is useful to note that just because a book is not in the children’s department of a library, or a school classroom, does not mean it has been “banned.” 

Nevertheless, towns all over this country are mired in battles like the one in Texas. It was not supposed to be this way. One of the advantages of our decentralized system of government, of local control over schools and libraries, was that people who live in a community together would be more likely to share a common sensibility than people who did not. 

Of course, small-town politics can be bitter. And fights over schools and libraries have been around since the beginning of schools and libraries. “Madame Librarian” Marian was battling Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, the wife of the mayor, when “The Music Man” musical was first staged in 1957. Her concern was about “smut” in the library like Balzac. If only. 

Somebody wants the Bible removed from Davis County school libraries
Perspective: When it comes to TikTok, don’t be conquered in your own kingdom

But things have gotten worse. One reason is that our sensibilities are now much more influenced by media we get from other places. Whether you live in a rural town in Texas or a suburb of San Francisco, you will likely be consuming the same things on your social media feed as those living in different parts of the country. There are large political and cultural divides but they are not just geographic. One of the most popular videos from the “Libs of TikTok” Twitter feed showed a teacher in Kentucky offering children explicit lessons about sex toys and gender ideology. This is not the first thing people think of when asked about local community sensibilities in Kentucky.

But there is also the training that teachers and librarians receive. Graduate schools of education and library science are awash with progressive ideology. At the University of Texas, for instance, students in the School of Information Science take classes like “Fake News and Facts in the Misinformation Age” or “Introduction to Social Justice Informatics” or “Misinformation, Justice, and Design.” The University of Wisconsin offers a joint degree in Library Sciences and Women’s & Gender Studies. 

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Librarians and many teachers now see themselves as part of the “resistance,” and they see it as part of their job to undermine the backward values of the communities where they live. The libraries and schools are not supposed to reflect the sensibilities of the families who patronize them anymore.

Decentralization is still probably the best approach to these hot-button cultural issues. The further away your opponents are, the easier it is to caricature them. Compromise is easier on a local level, too. Maybe different parts of a library can be set up to suit the needs of different people. Not everything is easily codified into law. 

Still the current state of these cultural battles is disappointing. Will our communities ever return to a point where decisions can be made without the input of Twitter or the intervention of federal courts? Sadly, it seems unlikely. 

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.

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