In many ways, the aspiring, toiling writer in me continues to wonder, in awe: books are creating all this fuss? Books? Surely it can’t be books – those hardbound objects, collections of ideas, dreams, illustrations, and histories can’t be the cause of all this trouble in Flathead County. Democratic, nonpartisan institutions are being torn asunder because of a book? You may think that pocket computer you use way too much during the day holds a lot of unchecked power but look again, friends. Look again. It’s books!
Here we are in the modern era with many other pressing concerns that might rank higher in terms of threats to welfare, safety and community, including an ongoing pandemic and the lack of affordable housing. Yet, in the Flathead a battle is being fought over the role of books, which really means allocating who can access certain types of information, and how a few in the grips of power can monitor and control it.
Our county library system, ImagineIF Libraries, is being torn apart because the Flathead County commissioners appointed three board members who are fearful of books. The scare lies in the potential that the contents of a book could undermine their authority, and this undercurrent of fear clouds their ability to understand and fulfill their duties. They are so worried about what might be contained in a book or two that they’re willing to dismantle an entire institution that taxpayers support with love, adoration, and generous patronage. Public libraries, such as our award-winning ImagineIF, are critical in a representative democracy and, in our county, vital. The contributions of a public library are numerous and include being a place that informs citizens, promotes information literacy, helps to reduce barriers to access, and protects our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech. A private entity can’t achieve what a public library can, and its entirely worth defending even if there are items a library possesses that don’t align with your personal political, cultural, spiritual, or other beliefs.
Books are scary because they contain information that can lead to power, connection, and imagination. They engage readers and call readers to action. Readers with certain kinds of knowledge must frighten these three trustees because why would they work so hard to knock down ImagineIF? If books weren’t so scary, why would these three, who have repeatedly demonstrated their unfitness for their positions, still remain on a board of an institution they’re appointed to serve?
There’s a lot of news out there that people are reading less, but I’d argue citizens are reading more and demanding that this county supports one of its most cherished institutions. The lifelong readers and writer in me couldn’t be more proud that books are inspiring action, and the devoted readers and library card holders are insisting for change, page by page.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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