By Randy Evans

The word for today is optics - but not the kind where your eye doctor is an expert.

Instead of eyeglasses, I am thinking about the kind of optics that result when the perception of some person's or some institution's values are contradicted by the reality of the actions they take.

Here's an example. This involves poor optics.

Librarians across Iowa have been put on the defensive by parents and grandparents who criticize some of the thousands of books that fill a community library or school library. This criticism has been especially sharp toward books intended for teenage readers that contain content with homosexual or transsexual themes or that include descriptions of sexual encounters that some people believe are too explicit for these readers.

Librarians have stepped forward to explain that it is not proper for people to force the removal of challenged books, thereby taking away other people's ability to choose what they want to read or what they want their children to read. Library administrators have informed parents how they can limit the books their children have access to in the library or in the classroom.

But those reasonable explanations are not the same message the Marshalltown Public Library is giving some patrons about content aimed at adult readers, not at young readers.

John Worden told me in an email last week he has been called "our problem patron" by library administrators, because he has attended Marshalltown library board meetings for the past 12 months to ask the library to provide subscriptions to a couple of conservative publications, the American Rifleman magazine and the Epoch Times newspaper. The library has refused - even when a couple of library patrons offered to pay for the subscriptions.

Library director Sarah Rosenblum told library trustees earlier this year she had made a "deep dive" into the content of these publications and has serious concerns about the science coverage in Epoch Times and about the gun magazine being published by the National Rifle Association.

That is where the poor optics occur.

No one expects libraries to carry every book, every magazine, and every newspaper. But how can libraries defend the presence of some books whose themes and content have been challenged by parents and then insist, as Marshalltown's library does, that a gun magazine and a conservative newspaper do not belong in that library's collection?

Librarians have long advocated for what is called intellectual freedom. They believe in the principle of making lots of views and perspectives available and leaving it to their patrons to pick and choose what they want to read.

Most libraries operate like a buffet. Some people come for the steamed broccoli. Others are drawn by the three-bean salad. That is why it is so baffling Marshalltown officials would dig in their heels and ignore reasonable requests from "our problem patron."

The library dust-up in Marshalltown certainly shows the scope of our current political divide in Iowa. You often hear people talking about how Iowans are more divided now than they have been in the past.

But Michael Giudicessi, a Des Moines attorney, provided important context and insight when he spoke last week at the annual meeting of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Michael reminded us that in 1857, Iowa voters ratified the state's constitution. Legal scholars praise the document for its clear recitation of the meaning behind the motto on Iowa's great seal. We learned it in Iowa history classes: "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain."

But in the beginning, the constitution was not resoundingly popular with people living in the state.

The ratification vote was 40,311 in favor and 38,681 against. That was an approval margin of 1,630 votes - meaning that a shift of 816 votes would have torpedoed the constitution Iowans still live under 166 years later.

Talk about optics โ€ฆ


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DL November 16, 2023, 1:21 pm The context that this author intended, with the inclusion of the Iowa Motto, is not completely clear. As I see the correlation, the "rights that we maintain" is an all inclusive statement, about the rights we are granted. Without more information, it's hard to make a clear-minded opinion on the subscriptions that the patron is requesting. Like, does the library pay for subscriptions to any periodicals already? If so, what does the selection look like? Does the patron have personal subscriptions to these, on his own, and thinks they would be popular in the library? This patron obviously has the right to make reasonable requests of the library. The library has the right to consider their current line-up, and make their own, business decision, regarding these requests.
IMHO, I've had experience with only one of them. The Epoch Times is, in my opinion, a piece of trash. There is rarely anything included, that has a bit of truth included. It's Q Anon conspiracy theories, from front to back.

The other one, I don't have any reason to ever deal with. My only thought on it is, that it ๐‚๐Ž๐”๐‹๐ƒ do a lot more harm to a teenagers mind, than a ๐’๐“๐Ž๐‘๐˜ about two men or two women in love.
CL November 16, 2023, 2:29 pm Well stated!
DE November 16, 2023, 11:39 pm DL

I think the bit about the motto was to challenge the idea that Iowans are more divided than ever. I think.

The Epoch Times doesn't belong anywhere near civilized people.

The other one... I used to read Soldier of Fortune and the like in public libraries and in relatively ok - I'm unfamiliar with the other magazine in question and I'm having a hard time understanding why it wouldn't be appropriate.
DC November 18, 2023, 9:11 am When it comes to news and the facts I'll go with CNN, Morning Joe, and The View every time. No reason to go any further as they report nothing but the truth. Why look at something I don't agree with?


Dave Coots

JS November 27, 2023, 7:45 pm Linsey,

It doesn't matter what is written or who writes it you are automatically negative. It makes no sense. Does anyone not know what the Iowa motto means??? The rights guaranteed by the preamble to the Constitution and the beginnings of the Declaration of Independence plus the bill of right in the addendum of the Constitution.

What does it matter how the library gets its magazines or news. Probably most if not all are donated.

Another note why D.L. Segregate the Epoch Times are you afraid of its content? Book burning? why be afraid of another view.

As an adder I don't think the majority wish to ban certain books, but segregate based on content suitable to the age of the reader.