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.

(9) comments

JAMESMCINTOSH

Citrus County is Trump-Country: If you seek haters of the NY Times, just look about you.

MPickel

Thank you Citrus Chronicle editorial board for your detailed and reasoned explanation of the issue and support for freedom of the press guaranteed by OUR Constitution.

CarolRoberts

Please - everyone take a step back. It isn't about the expense ... the money is already allocated/budgeted/approved. the issue is that the library director cannot sign a contract - a BOCC member has to sign and at this moment in time it appears that they (BOCC) still believe this is about the money, Read my lips - no it is not. it is because a signature is needed from the BOCC.

LizBurda

What would you call a newspaper who admittedly published fake new stories for years? I am referring to the New York Times and the Jayson Blair scandal. For those who are unfamiliar, Jayson Blair was a writer for the NYT and published outright false news stories and plagiarized stories (the very definition of "fake news"). To remedy the situation the Times hired a "public editor" (ombudsman) to assure this type of scandal would not be repeated. However, May of 2017, just a few months into Trump’s 1st year, the Times abruptly eliminated this position. This was done about 2 years short of the contracted term. The timing is certainly suspicious. It appears the Times is no longer interested in “safeguards” and is reverting to the old modus operandi, that allowed Jayson Blair to publish fake news.

Since eliminating the public editor position, the NYT has had to “correct” many news stories, regarding the Trump administration and Justice Kavanaugh. The NY Times totally bungled their “facts” regarding the Trump tax plan. That “fake news” article claimed their example couple “Sam and Felicity” would pay nearly $4000 more in taxes (under Trump tax plan). They had to “correct” their fake news, with the truth, under Trump tax plan the example couple’s tax would indeed be lower. I recall the Times accusing Secretary of State Haley of purchasing expensive curtains, when in fact the curtains had been ordered and approved via the Obama Administration, “Outrage” against Haley was not turned against the Obama administration, so the story faded. More recently, the Times wrote an article accusing Justice Kavanaugh of a sexual assault, the article failed to mention the so called “victim” in the story does not even recall the incident.

Since NYT refuses to use the public editor, I do not want my tax dollars used to support this clearly biased media outlet. If Citrus chooses to subscribe to NYT, I demand equal monetary assets be invested to subscribe to “conservative” media outlets. It would be refreshing to see The Chronicle at least mention the NTY eliminated the public editor, so the readers would actually get both sides of the story!!!! While "Pulitzer Prizes" are referenced, keep in mind Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer for a completely fake story.

ellenmiller

There are those of us who use the library and its services frequently, but do it online. We would appreciate the ease of having access to the New York Times. The commissioners casual disdain for the subscription requested by the library is a slap in the face for our well educated librarians who see value in a well written newspaper available to 70,000 library patrons.

HENRYSASSER

I am registered with the independent party and do not vote party lines but rather who I feel is the right person for the job. I hope that the person elected is there for all the people of Citrus County and just for their "party" voters. I think Mr Carnahan stepped over the line with his comments big time. I hope he will see that he is there for all and not just President Trump's followers if and when this is brought up for another vote. People do have good memories and I am sure that those who don',t will be reminded come election time.

CitrusCo Citizen

This whole hot mess has actually been valuable because it has clearly defined the "true colors" of Carnahan and his cronies. Now we definitely know who NOT to vote for in upcoming elections.

SHC

Commissioner Carnahan made an official decision based on personal political bias. It's so heartening to learn that this violation of public trust was met with a huge outcry from citizens. Hopefully Carnahan will get a similar message next time his name appears on a ballot.

rmcconnell

Although I do not support reading the “Times” as I also think it is extremely biased , anyone who desires to read it has the right to do so. Both sides of the coin should be represented. EVERYONE is entitled to their opinion and entitled to read their choice of news. We live in this amazing country for this and many other reasons. Politicians are elected to uphold the people’s choice’s, not their personal ones. That being said, can we also get a subscription to N.R.A. magazine?

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