Commentary: Libraries and librarians under attack

By Linda Stamato

“Where books are burned, the one at the end burns men.”

These prophetic words of Henry Heine, a 19th-century Jewish poet, were pronounced in 1822; they appear at the beginning of Geraldine Brooks’ gorgeous people of the bookwhich is dedicated “For Librarians”.

Among the books consigned to the flames in 1933 are those of Heine.

I think of this devastating story in Germany as we see the increasing attacks about books, libraries and, indeed, about their guardians, librarians.

Librarians who just months ago were rightly hailed as heroes for keeping books accessible, ensuring safe spaces and ongoing services as best they could safely, are under attack in the latest version of the culture war.

As highly visible and politicized book bans spread across the country, librarians found themselves on the front lines of this acrimonious war, with their careers and personal reputations at risk.

“They have been branded pedophiles on social media, picked up by local politicians and reported to law enforcement,” reports the Times. And some librarians, tired of online harassment, quit. Others have been fired for refusing to take books out of circulation.

So much for the revered officials.

In the center of people of the book is a valuable 15th-century Spanish Hebrew manuscript that was saved from destruction during the bombardment of the libraries of Sarajevo, the heart of intellectual life in Bosnia.

Brooks’ book was published in 2008 because our nation’s sanity was not yet in question as we see it today. It’s a warning, as I see it. We should take that into account, if of course we care to see it, to protect our books, our libraries, our librarians.

It’s curious that in the same week that I discovered people of the bookI saw that the local Guide Morris, included the Morristown and Morris Township Library in a double-page spread, announcing in bold type that it was “more than just books”. And that’s how:

A community library is a kind of refuge. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to do your homework, need a little reference and research help, want to curl up in a chair with a new title, or just need a few comforts, it has always been a place where you can count on yourself to be there. Beyond that, a library is more than just a place with books.

A place for classes, for learning crafts or know-how, for “borrowing” museum passes, accessing the “Library of things” such as rackets, video games, musical instruments, etc. And librarians are at the center of it all.

In short, the library is much more than books; it is a treasure trove, a place, a resource, a precious treasure of, yes, books, and it is more than a workplace for librarians who provide assistance and advice, who patiently explain, conduct research, apply their talents and creativity to innovate, inspire and serve their communities.

As we become more aware of the need to protect and preserve our access to books, we need to keep an eye out to ensure our librarians are safe and understand how valuable and valued they are. .

Appreciated, by little guys like this, Carter Mandel, at two years:

The author’s grandson, Carter Mandel, at 2, browsing children’s books in the Morris County Library. As he grew older and could read the words, he found the caterpillar book even more appealing. Photo courtesy of Linda Stamato

…and the people on the lawn, reading…

Patrons reading outside the Morristown & Township Library, July 12, 2022. Photo by Linda Stamato

…or attend the Tuesday book sales at the Morristown & Township Library.

Morristown & Township Library Book Sale, July 12, 2022. Photo by Linda Stamato


Linda Stamato is co-director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. She is also a faculty member there. Active in the Morristown community, she sits on the board of the Morristown and Morris Township Library Foundation and is a commissioner for the Morristown Parking Authority.

The opinions expressed in the comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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