Kalispell: “A Truly Great Library has Something in it to Offend Everyone”

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Close up of books on desk in library.

The following Op-Ed was submitted by Carmen Cuthbertson of Flathead County.

“I’ve been thinking about a quote I have heard more than once during public comment at recent meetings of the ImagineIf Library Board in Kalispell. The quote is from librarian Jo Godwin. “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”

That is a weird thing for a public space to aspire to. Really? Offending every single person that walks through the door is what we should aim for? Why? Why should our little library have such a strangely combative, provocative, and aggressive goal? Whatever happened to the library being a calm, soothing safe space? Why should our library strive to be offensive to as many of its patrons as possible?

Along similar lines, people in favor of keeping Gender Queer on the shelf seem proud of the fact that this picture book for teens comes very close to being pornographic, but – from what I have read – possibly just barely squeaks by the legal definition of obscenity and child pornography.

Why is that good? Why would anyone be proud of having almost-porn or almost-obscenity in the library? Why go to that extreme? What purpose does that serve? It certainly doesn’t help us get along as a group of people with diverse views.

Getting along requires compromise. Going to the extreme is the opposite of seeking compromise. Gleefully proclaiming that our library should offend everyone, skirting the edges of obscenity, pushing graphic sexual content on teens is not how we will find common ground.

I don’t want to go back to the Victorian era, where showing your ankle was quite scandalous, but there is a common-sense middle ground here between antiquated, prude moral values and the idea that the more people our library can offend, the better.

We need to find that middle ground if our library is to serve everyone and provide a welcoming environment for all.”




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