THE ISSUE: Commissioners say “no” to New York Times digital subscription request.
OUR OPINION: Politically biased restriction of materials has no place in American libraries; commissioner comments violated Library Bill of Rights.
At their Oct. 24 meeting, county commissioners responded overwhelmingly against a request from Library Director Eric Head to provide library cardholders access to a digital subscription to the New York Times newspaper.
Their conversation was short, but their message was strong — one went so far as to say he doesn’t want the publication in the county, citing “fake news” and support of President Donald Trump to justify rejection of the request.
In the week following the meeting, Chronicle readers cried out in droves against the decision of the commissioners, pointing out censorship, the suppression of differing viewpoints and restricting materials based on political bias.
The subject has garnered more comments and public input than any story in Chronicle history.
If you attended the meeting or watched the video, it was clear that the reason for rejection wasn’t fully fiscal — it was personal.
It was also downright unprofessional.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan’s remarks made it evident that his reasons for blocking the request were based on his own opinion of the publication. He said doesn’t like the New York Times. He’d approve the money to be spent elsewhere, but not on the New York Times.
Others laughed and reveled in the camaraderie of the refusal.
The county is not in dire financial distress, and could easily approve the money spent on the subscription. Yet, the commissioners chose not to, and several said blatantly or implied that they are against the publication.
And those critical sentiments are in violation of library ethics.
Article II of the Library Bill of Rights states: “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
Commissioner Carnahan violated this when he spoke out against the publication as a government official, saying he didn’t want it in the county, and condemned the New York Times for its content as “fake news.”
For the record, the New York Times has been a staple of American reading since 1851 (168 years ago). Journalists at the Times have won 127 Pulitzer Prizes — more than any other newspaper on record. The publication chronicles global politics, science, health, religion, culture, fashion, business, entertainment, food, the arts and an incredibly wide variety of other topics. Like them or hate them, you cannot dispute their role in history — they have written and photographed it since before you were born.
What’s especially concerning about the commissioner’s discussion of the Times is his outspoken desire to reject library materials he doesn’t personally agree with. That’s censorship as defined by the American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest library association in the world that guides the standards and core values of libraries across the United States. Access to information shouldn’t be restricted because a handful of government officials find it objectionable. Censors prejudge materials for everyone.
While the library system currently has a limited subscription to the New York Times (two out of five branches get one print copy a day), single copies of the newspapers aren’t designed to reach a full community. If someone steals that copy (which can happen frequently), other readers miss out on the newspaper.
A digital subscription would open the newspaper to all 70,000 library card holders in Citrus County, without forcing them to use the gasoline to get to the library (only to find out some jerk took the day’s paper because they wanted to do the crossword at home, or there are three other people waiting to read that one newspaper). It would also open access to students at school, the working class who want to read on their lunch break, to those with limited transportation and to those who are immobile.
Libraries provide more than nonfiction books for scholarly research and reference. They provide entertaining fiction, DVD movies, computer access (that can be utilized for personal use), craft classes for adults, interactive activities for children and a whole host of things that are solely for pleasure and exposure to new things. Should we stop funding them because they are not a “necessity” or because we personally don’t enjoy them?
These forms of entertainment, plus the vital community services provided, make American public libraries the magical place that they are. The more we take away, the more our community, and our country, suffers.
Perhaps the commissioners should actually go to the library once in a while and read up on the mission and values of the entity they govern. Or they could just leave the content selection to the highly educated and trained professionals they hired to do the job.
Commissioner Brian Coleman has said he will bring the matter back up at a future board meeting. We urge the commissioners to rethink the digital subscription, and in the future, think of the citizens they serve and how they could benefit from new library services.