things i heard at the library: an occasional series: # 7

I must preface this post with a statement. If you aren't a regular wmtc reader, if you've stumbled on this post without knowing anything about my views: I am a fierce proponent of free speech, and I am passionately committed to intellectual freedom.

Once, discussing my opposition to capital punishment, someone asked me, "Even for George Bush?" And I thought, you don't know me very well, do you? I'd give my eye teeth to see a POTUS - former or sitting - stand trial for war crimes. I'd dance in the streets as he were sentenced to life behind bars, his wealth distributed to survivors as partial restitution. But if he were sentenced to death, I would protest.

My commitment to intellectual freedom is along those lines. If I am bothered by a book in the library, that doesn't mean I want it removed from the collection or banned from publication.

So that's out of the way.

For the past few weeks, I've been working as a page in one of the system's branch libraries, so I'm seeing not only children's books now, but a full spectrum of books for adults, youth, and children. And certain books really irritate me. I cringe as I pass them on the shelf, or worse, as I shelve them - which means someone has recently borrowed them.

Discussions about intellectual freedom in the library usually focus on controversial material, especially concepts that are known to be false or harmful - anti-reason books about so-called "intelligent design", anti-Semitic propaganda, outdated children's books bristling with racism. In some communities, librarians regularly defend keeping The Communist Manifesto or A People's History of the United States on the shelves.

Alternative theories of creation are catalogued in religion, where they belong. And as far as I'm concerned, you can never have too many political ideas in the collection. What ends up bothering me is much more mundane. Diet books promising 30 days to a "new you". Books on how to look younger. Or a book that combines the two, announcing that the path to longevity is starvation. (I kid you not.) Get-rich-quick schemes. How to become a millionaire next year. How to make your fortune in real estate. Top tips Wall Street doesn't want you to know.

Books that reinforce the traps, the treadmills, the dead-ends of consumerism.

Books that exploit our insecurities, that reinforce personal envy and dissatisfaction.

Books that sell a "system" for attaining happiness - happiness defined by material wealth and commercially-approved beauty, a system which of course begins with buying this book. Snake-oil salesmen in book format.

Could we file these under Fiction?

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